Sunday, July 20, 2014

An odd thing

Yesterday, there was a pro-Palestinian protest march in Auckland, which isn’t unusual—there have been several over recent years. But this time I received an official warning, something I thought was over the top.

This year’s protest march went to the US Consulate (in previous years they marched from the Consulate), and was attended by 500-1500 people—depending on who you believe; I wasn’t there, so I have no idea.

The US consulate warned me not to attend the march—seriously. Actually, they warned me twice, in two emails five hours apart. “Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence,” they told me. “You should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstration.”

I’ll be direct: My first reaction was, “are you frigging serious?!” This is New Zealand: Not only don’t protests in this country typically turn violent, but I’ve never—ever—felt threatened or intimidated on the streets as an American-born New Zealander. Actually, the truth is that the only times I’ve felt anti-American aggression from New Zealanders has been on social media (Twitter and Facebook), never in real life.

So, I thought the emailed warning to US citizens in New Zealand was over-the-top. I also thought the email itself was vaguely intimidating, perhaps of US citizens who might want to joint the march, when it said: “New Zealand Police are aware of the protest and are monitoring it.”

I suppose I should be grateful that the US Government is trying to keep US citizens safe by warning them of potential trouble. I should be grateful, maybe, but it’s hard for me when I find them to be, shall we say, rather culturally tone-deaf. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that about the US diplomatic mission in New Zealand. Maybe there really is a first time for everything.

New Zealand is a peaceful country, and one in which group violence is very rare—so much so, that I felt the US Consulate was warning me about another country entirely. If I’d been in the CBD yesterday, the only reason I would’ve avoided the area is because the streets were blocked, not because of concerns about my personal safety. As it happens, I had things scheduled here on the other side of the bridge, and so, wasn’t there. But the Consulate and its tone-deaf warning didn’t keep me away, not even almost. I know New Zealanders better than they do, it seems, and considering they’re supposed to be experts, that’s an odd thing.


rogerogreen said...

Maybe it's a function of the Paris reaction: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/10978435/Thousands-join-pro-Palestinian-rally-in-London-while-protesters-clash-with-police-in-Paris.html

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I'm not aware of New Zealand ever forbidding a protest march, but this one certainly wasn't. Pro-Israel demostrator(s) did briefly attempt to block the marchers' path, but even that didn't provoke violence. Of course.