In first, top New Zealander makes official visit to Israel

Governor-General arrives to represent country in commemoration of 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba

President Reuven Rivlin welcomes New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patricia Reddy to the President's Residence, on October 30, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin welcomes New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patricia Reddy to the President's Residence, on October 30, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

New Zealand’s Governor-General arrived in Israel on Monday, a first for the country’s constitutional head, as part of the commemorations marking 100 years since the Battle of Beersheba.

President Reuven Rivlin welcomed Governor-General of New Zealand Patricia Reddy, and her husband David Gascoigne, to Jerusalem.

Reddy also met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Yad Vashem, and took part in the signing of trade deals between the two countries.

Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy, during a visit at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum. October 30, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

Reddy is representing New Zealand at the ANZAC commemorations of 100 years since the World War I battle in which Australia and New Zealand troops, mounted on horseback, defeated German soldiers, in one of history’s last great cavalry battles.

Rivlin spoke of the special friendship between Israel and New Zealand. “It began long before Israel even existed as an independent state,” he said. “One hundred years ago, New Zealand’s soldiers helped free the Land of Israel from the Ottoman Empire… and in that battle, 31 soldiers lost their lives. We remember their loss even now.”

Reddy said that in addition to the memorial events, she had used her trip to advance cooperation between New Zealand and Israel in various fields.

“Already this morning, I have been present at a conference announcing a major agreement between a New Zealand energy company and an important technology company in Israel that have come together to collaborate on technology, the future, the internet of things, making advancements for both Israel and New Zealand,” she said.

She said the two countries were “geographically distant, but very much spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, we have a lot in common. We are a small nation, a nation of advanced entrepreneurial technology, because we need to think smart to get ahead. Israel has always needed to think smart to get ahead, to survive. We have been here alongside Israel from the beginning and we will continue to be so.”

Reddy said that although this was the first time New Zealand’s governor-general had visited the Jewish state, it was not her first time in the country. She recalled that she backpacked through Israel in the 1980s.

Netanyahu met Reddy and discussed further cooperation between the countries, as well as updating her on regional developments and Iran’s attempts to upset the balance of power in the Middle East.

New Zealand Ambassador to Israel Jonathan Curr signed a bilateral agreement with Transport Minister Yisrael Katz to allow direct flights between the two countries and the opening of airspace.

Reddy, along with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will represent their countries at the anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba on Tuesday, where Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops fought against German soldiers in one of history’s last cavalry battles.

The 1917 attack on the Ottoman forces in the city, which was led by British general Edmund Allenby, enabled the British Empire to take control of southern Palestine, after months of inconclusive fighting in Gaza, and continue its advance towards Jerusalem.

Mounted units of soldiers from both Australia and New Zealand played key roles in the fight for the city.

The ceremony will be held on October 31 at the Beersheba Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, where more than 1,000 commonwealth soldiers are buried, including the over 100 troops who died during the Battle of Beersheba.

Many Aboriginal soldiers joined the ANZAC cavalry units, commemorated here during an October 23, 2017 ceremony at the old Tzemach train station. They were forced to lie about their origins, since the army did not allow Aboriginals to enlist. (Michael Huri/KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

The role of the governor-general is to represent the interests of the country’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, in New Zealand.

The Foreign Ministry had originally announced that New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English would attend the commemorations, but he was ousted from power in recent elections, leaving Reddy to represent the country.

Israel and New Zealand have had a stormy relationship over the past few years.

Most recently, the two countries had a falling out in December, over New Zealand’s co-sponsoring of UN Resolution 2334, condemning West Bank settlements. That event led Israel to downgrade its ties with the country and withdraw its ambassador. The spat ended after English apologized to Netanyahu in June, leading to a renewal of ties.

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