The chairman of New Zealand’s biggest mosque has come under fire for suggesting Israel’s Mossad spy agency and “Zionist business houses” were behind the Christchurch massacre that killed 50 Muslim worshipers.
The country’s Jewish community and national human rights institution both condemned the remarks, made on Saturday at a rally in Auckland organized by a group called Love Aotearoa Hate Racism and streamed live on local broadcaster Apna TV’s Facebook page.
One of the speakers at the rally was Fiji Indian businessman Ahmed Bhamji, who is the chairman of Masjid E Umar in the Auckland suburb of Mount Roskill — which describes itself on its Facebook page as the “busiest and biggest” mosque in New Zealand.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had visited that mosque on the same day as the rally, mourning the victims of the massacre committed by Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant.
“I really want to say one thing today,” Bhamji told a crowd of hundreds of people who attended the rally. “Do you think this guy was alone? I want to ask you — where did he get the funding from? … He has been here [for] two years, in New Zealand. Tell me, what has he been doing here for two years? Where was he working? Where was he getting the money from?
“I will not mince words,” Bhamji added. “I stand here and I say I have a very very strong suspicion that there is some group behind him and I am not afraid to say I feel Mossad is behind this.”
A man in the crowd can then be heard shouting: “That’s the truth. Israel is behind this. That’s right!”
Bhamji continued: “And not only them. There are some business houses, also, who are around… you know, Zionist business houses that are behind him. And I think when the investigations come through, the investigations need to look at that angle. Where did he get the money to buy all those guns?
A man in the crowd then interjected and shouted: “Israel!”
Earlier during the rally, socialist activist Joe Carolan, the co-founder of the group that organized the protest, said the war between Israel and the Palestinians had “come home” because six of the victims of the Christchurch shooting were of Palestinian origin.
The video of the inflammatory remarks resurfaced on social media on Tuesday, prompting news coverage and angry reactions.
“These conspiracy theories are dangerous lies,” New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses told local website Newshub. “They put the Jewish community at risk, at a time of heightened security concerns.”
Apparently it’s not obvious that you don’t counter racism, hatred and conspiracy theories by peddling more racism, hatred and conspiracy theories.
There are simply no excuses for this. https://t.co/tF97ic4PkG
— Juliet Moses (@JulietMosesNZ) March 24, 2019
“Conspiracy theories — particularly the idea that Jews (whether through the Jewish state or otherwise) are a malevolent controlling force in the world — are at the very core of anti-Semitism,” Moses added.
The Human Rights Commission, New Zealand’s national human rights institution, said: “Prejudice against Jewish people has no place in New Zealand. We must condemn racism, hate and anti-semitism whenever we see it.”
Carolan, the protest organizer, when asked if he agreed with the theory that Mossad was behind the attack, said “absolutely not,” but defended the rally by saying he was just one speaker out of 30.
Moses responded by saying the organizers should have publicly called out Bhamji.
“It is unfortunate that they did not appear to put its anti-racism message into practice, by challenging or condemning the racism in their midst,” she told Newshub. “We must call out hateful dehumanizing language, whatever the source, target and circumstances, and even when it is not politically expedient to do so.”
The statement by the Chairman of Masjid Umar is absolutely absurd and unacceptable in such times where we are to come…
Some Muslim public figures also denounced Bhamji’s statement, with lawyer Umar Abdul Kuddus calling it “absolutely absurd and unacceptable,” and some participants at the rally saying they were shocked by the accusation, according to Newshub.
However, Bhamji refused to back down and repeated the allegation when contacted by Newshub.
“Mossad is up to all these things,” he said. “When I talk about Mossad, why should the Jews be upset about it? I made a statement, a lot of other people made statements.”