Excitement Turns To Anger As Oil Spill Rains On New Zealand's Rugby World Cup Parade

Oil continues to wash ashore along New Zealand’s North Island following last week’s grounding of a Liberian-flagged cargo ship. The prime minister promises to clean the area’s pristine beaches “no matter what the cost,” but among locals, frustration is mo

The Rena aground on a reef off the coast of New Zealand.
The Rena aground on a reef off the coast of New Zealand.
Bruno Lesprit

TAURANGA – The boy's school in Tauranga, on New Zealand's North Island, rarely receives such prestigious visitors. While the students – teenagers of mostly Maori descent – practice on the rugby field in the pouring rain, Prime Minister John Key and the transportation minister, Stephen Joyce, enter a small theater in the building that has become the crisis management center for an oil spill off the island's coast.

The oil – about 350 tons worth so far – is leaking from a cargo ship that ran aground on a reef at around 2 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 5. So far the spillage does not appear to include 11 barrels of hazardous materials that are known to be onboard the vessel. But there's reason to fear that the highly toxic material could also eventually end up in the water, since the cargo boat's metal hull has been bent and cracks have appeared and gotten larger. The strong current further twists the metal. The back section of the boat has become detached from the front and is sinking.

Pumping the fuel out poses an enormous problem. "The situation on board is very dangerous. The fuel containers are moving, and in fact, everything is moving," says Bruce Anderson, the head of the rescue unit. For safety reasons, the operation has to be done by helicopter.

Prime Minister Key hasn't hidden the fact that the situation has been continually deteriorating. But for now he's limiting his remarks mostly to thanking volunteers and reassuring local communities that the beaches will be cleaned up, one by one. He promises that they will be restored to "the state they were in before the catastrophe… no matter what the cost."

"Clean me"

The affected area stretches along nearly 30 kilometers, from Mount Maunganui, a volcano considered sacred by the Maori, along the beaches of Papamoa, the large suburbs of Tauranga. On Wednesday, 250 official volunteers pick up tar balls along the beaches. They are now joined by the military, which has just been called in to help. The volunteer headquarters is set up across from the school in Tauranga, in a brick warehouse. Their hours are precise: from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On the edges of the mountain, where an immense "clean me" sign has been drawn in the sand, the beach seems more or less oil-free only a short time after the morning high tide. The clean-up was done the night before by a large group of volunteers. Now only a few people are working. Among them are three crew members specialized in rescuing birds. An estimated 200 birds have already perished. "What is happening here is much more important than the rugby world cup," says one of the volunteers.

Heading towards Papamoa, the local "Sunshine Paradise," the black substance is already scattered and dispersed in the sand. Approximately 20 people, working with rakes and empty paint buckets, are taking care of the mess. The group includes both Maori and Pakeha (the local word for New Zealanders of European decent). Some curious onlookers stop to take photos with their mobile phones. "It's clean, but you'll have to start again tomorrow, and then the day after tomorrow," says one of the passersby.

Not everyone is so easily discouraged. One volunteer named Sharon, a Kiwi producer who works alone with a household shovel and a pair of "two-dollar gloves," insists on helping even though she's been told my some authorities to stay away.

"They want to control the situation. But I notice that there is a lot of work to do and it is not all being done," she says. "I have the impression that there is no authority. There are a lot of meetings, a lot of talk back and forth, but not much action. It's a little chaotic. They told us that they would come by at 1 p.m. But I have been here since 8 a.m."

Inevitable frustration

A little further on, one resident recalls that on the evening of Oct. 4 – a good nine hours before the accident was first made public – he saw black smoke emanating from the "Rena," the Liberian-flagged ship that is stuck some 20 kilometers from the beach and is occasionally visible. "How is it possible that the accident wasn't reported until 2 a.m. the following day?" he wants to know.

In this atmosphere of frustration, it doesn't take much for the usual refrain of government neglect to resurge. John Key says he's not surprised people are angry. "I can understand people's frustration, they want to think that everything can be done quickly," he says. "But we are working as fast as we can."

Stephen Joyce, the transportation minister, admits it will be necessary "to clean the beaches constantly in upcoming weeks."

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Youtube

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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