Derek Cheng at NZ Herald reports:
The Israelis at the centre of spying suspicions say the allegations are ridiculous and insulting – and they are demanding an apology. …
Mr Jordan said last night he and his friends were backpackers, not spies.
“It’s a big lie, and it’s rubbish,” he told 3 News.
“When I was in New Zealand, I was just a backpacker and was travelling New Zealand.” …
Israeli search and rescue team head Hilik Magnus said he helped facilitate their quick departure.
It was “ridiculous, impolite and even rude” to think that their swift departure was suspicious, he said.
“What should three youngsters do when one of their friends has died? Stay in the park without their belongings? Should they sit in the park and wait? Or should they go home, hug their families and share their sorrow with the family of their friend [who died]?” …
Mr Magnus, who led a seven-person team to Christchurch, said it was “total bullshit” to think that any spy activity was going on.
He denied reports that his team was caught in the Red Zone and had to be escorted out by police.
He said the team was allowed in the restricted area only once – under police supervision – to retrieve to belongings of dead Israelis Mr Levy and Mr Ingel.
“We are going to demand an apology [from the Southland Times, which broke the story] and if they don’t do it, we are going to sue. It is a stupid story. Nothing connected to reality.”
I have great sympathy for the three young backpackers who not only lost a mate, but had these allegations to deal with. Likewise it has been tough on the families of other Israelis killed.
And if there were factual errors in the Southland Times story, they should of course be corrected.
But in terms of the issue of the initial suspicions of the security agencies, the reality is once bitten twice shy. The attempt to get false NZ passports a few years ago by Israeli intelligence agencies was incredibly stupid and damaging. If that attempt had never occurred, then I doubt this whole issue would have occurred. But it is natural for our security agencies to be more vigilant or suspicious when there is a track record like Israel has.
I am a defender of much of what Israel does, as they do get treated unfairly and discriminated against in many ways. But I am not an uncritical defender. Actions have consequences, and if you abuse a friendly country’s hospitality once, then it is no surprise that security agencies will be more vigilant in future.
The young Israelis and their families (and the USAR team led by Mr Magnus) are innocent victims in all this, and will be justifiably angry at having to defend their names and reputations. They have my sympathy. But some of their anger should be directed at the former Israeli Government which authorised the attempted passport identity theft in the 2000s. If they had not done that, this whole episode might not have ever happened.