It’s nice to see our political leaders playing a constructive role on the international stage again.

Last week, we saw our Foreign Minister joining other global leaders in calling for both sides in the Israeli conflict with Palestine to give serious consideration to the cease fire terms that were before them.

It comes at a time when the various crises in the Middle East are at risk of boiling over into a broader conflict. Meanwhile the likelihood of wider international involvement in Russia’s war with Ukraine is seemingly more likely. From the relative safety of our distance, it certainly feels like the world sits on the brink of another major war, stretching from the Middle East to Europe.

But this time, it’s different.

The Palestinian attack on Israel on October 7th 2023, was as brutal as anything imaginable. The unprecedented surprise attack appeared to catch Israel off guard and the consequences were tragic. Firstly for Israel. Subsequently for the people of Gaza and in fact, the entire Middle East region.

Israel of course, retaliated. They probably had no choice but to do so. They were under siege, and they will never forget their past. October 7th provided just another chapter. This time they appeared to say, “never again”. Most of us would understand their response.

But even the most one sided view should acknowledge that they probably went too far. While estimates of the death toll vary, it’s broadly accepted that at least 30,000 Palestinians are dead as a result of the Israeli incursion.

Notwithstanding, many of us are surprised by the global reaction to Israel’s response. While the world feels sorry for Ukraine, there has been little in the way of global annoyance at the behaviour of Russia, aka the bully next door.

However, as Israel has taken up the role of “bully next door” for arguably more palpable reasons than those of Putin’s Russia, public anger has built quickly and dramatically against them.

As a result we are seeing a protest movement, sweeping the global landscape from downtown London to the university campuses of the United States, and from Sydney to Paris. They’re protesting in Beirut and Vancouver. University students in Wellington and a couple of weeks ago, Auckland, have decided to get in on the act too.

What’s surprising is that the protesters are favouring the Palestinians.

Many of the protesters are wearing the keffiyeh, the distinctive black & white scarf favoured as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. You can now buy your very own keffiyeh on Amazon. Or you can borrow one from our very own Green Party MP’s who, apparently demonstrating their solidarity with the Palestinian people, wore them to the swearing in of Parliament, late last year.

These protests are throwing more disruption at an already troubled world. Universities, still recovering from Covid, are now closing their operations and requiring students to work from home. Gone are the semester ending ceremonies and functions. In London, Jewish people, rather than the protesters, are being prevented from walking the streets, in case their presence ignites a gang of pro-Palestine supporters. Worryingly, the London Metropolitan Police are turning their attention to the prevention of Jewish freedoms, rather than attempting to stop the protesters.

In the last few years the protest movement has favoured causes such as climate change, Black Lives Matter and more recently, “Me Too”. As the pro-Palestine cause gathers steam I wonder what happened to those other causes. Perhaps, as short attention spans reign supreme, “protest du Jour” is the new cause.

What surprises me about the protest movement is this. We are seeing the very same University campuses that led protest movements in favour of women’s liberation in the 1960’s and early 70’s, protesting in favour of a regime that is barbaric in it’s treatment of women. Whatever happened to “Me Too”?

We’re also seeing the rainbow community out in force in favour of the Palestinians too. And yet, the regime for whom they are protesting would not think twice about inflicting punishment of the most graphic kind, on the lifestyle chosen by that community.

It makes you wonder about how many of the protesters really understand the background to the causes they are supporting.

The various regional wars continue to spawn a wave of unlawful immigration. That all started a decade or so ago as the Syrian people sought safety in foreign lands. But it has escalated as hordes of people from the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine and even South America seek out a new place to call home.

This time around it seems that many of the people on the move are more organised than before, and they will most certainly use the current momentum, and the unprecedented levels of support, to advance their cause.

When we see the television pictures, we see long queues of women and children, each carrying the meagre belongings they can manage, as they evacuate their homelands. We’re told that they’re fleeing their war torn communities. They appear as a shambolic rabble of hopelessness, variously searching for somewhere else to go.

But as the refugee crisis continues to build in Europe, we don’t see those women and children in the pictures on the other side of the ocean. We see young men. Hordes of them. Arriving en masse in even the most substantial of European countries. They’re dressed in black and carrying backpacks. They’re not a disorganised rabble any more. Instead they have access to big boats and, it would appear, a clear plan.

The same thing is happening in the USA. Whilst the streets are filled with pro-Palestinian protestors celebrating a cause far away, under their noses South American asylum seekers are traveling north in big boats, and hitting the Californian coast at full speed, before jumping and running to the anonymity of the streets and shopping centres a few hundred metres away. They’re organised. And the America, that has tried so hard to protect it’s borders over the decades, has no idea of who is now in their country, what their background is, or what their intentions are.

Back in Europe, the result is that there are now millions of young men, illegal immigrants, spread across Europe. They’re everywhere, including Germany, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom. Crime waves are common and crimes against women are increasing, as they seek to impose their own particular brand of havoc. When you import a people, you import the best and the worst of their society too.

As populations swell, the pro-Palestinian protests gather more supporters, and the Jewish people, many being families whom have lived in their communities in England, Germany or Brussels for a century or more, are having their freedoms curbed.

The reaction of the European countries is now at a critical point. In Britain, parliament recently passed legislation to enable the Rwanda policy, which will see unwanted immigrants and asylum seekers flown to Rwanda in Africa to resume their lives. In Greece, they simply turned back the asylum seekers. Guess what? They stopped coming.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the election in the Netherlands has resulted in a new right wing coalition that will intensify border controls, and deport those foreigners who are denied asylum.

But those tactics put pressure on other centres. Those immigrants escaping the UK’s Rwanda plan, have turned to Ireland, where small county communities such as Newtownmountkennedy have seen local people peacefully protesting the decision to house large numbers of refugees in their small and peaceful communities. The protesters, representing a cross section of law abiding people typical of what any small town might look like, have been physically pushed aside by police making way for the construction gangs who will create the new camps. As with the London Police mentioned above, Irish Police are limiting the freedoms of locals to make way for the illegal immigrants from troubled foreign lands.

Chants of “Ireland is full” can be heard as the locals attempt to stand up for the community they know, the community they want to maintain. Many are asking “who is organising and paying for governments to turn against their own people”? It’s a good question.

It’s easy to feel sorry for those living the nightmare as a genuine peace-seeking refugee, seeking a new life, at a time when no country wants you. But imagine living in a small village with 2,500 people and having 160 asylum seekers forced on your community. You can understand their pain too.

Meanwhile, those escaping the Middle East and Africa will continue to build their numbers in Europe. With those numbers will come growing families, communities, and a new sector of society, often revolving around a local place of religious worship. You’d like to think it could happen peacefully, a genuine opportunity for displaced people to start a new life. But it doesn’t feel like that.

As the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza bookend a frightened Europe, the risks of a regional war look increasingly likely. As Iran joins the battle against Israel, and the prospect of Western allies supporting Ukraine grows ever more likely, a broader conflict seems more probable than at any time in the lives of our generation.

But this time is different. This time there are millions of young men, men from the Middle East and Africa, who have now stationed themselves in Europe’s heartland. Men who have grown up in war torn countries. Men who grew up in an environment where our way of life is frowned upon. And men who will likely side with the invaders rather than the defenders, in the event of a European regional war.

There are lessons for New Zealand in the immigration chaos. Fortunately we are a long way away, and it’s difficult to get here. Our distance, so often a handicap, is currently an advantage. As the numbers of those displaced by war on the other side of the world, inevitably increase, pressure will again come on us to take increasing allocations of refugees.

Unlike many of the countries invaded by illegal immigrants over the last few years, our physical separation from the rest of the world, and the oceans that surround us, provide us with a choice. We should take the opportunity to pause, consider the lessons from our allies on the other side of the world, and take our own decisions with great caution.

Fred Dagg once sang, “we don’t know how lucky we are”.  It is up to our very own Foreign Minister, and the government he represents, to keep it that way.

An excerpt from this article appeared on Newstalk ZB Plus on Friday 17th May 2024.

Bruce Cotterill is a company director and adviser to business leaders. He is the author of the book, The Best Leaders Don’t Shout, a regular NZ Herald columnist and host of the NZME’s podcast, Leaders Getting Coffee.