(CNSNews.com) – The head of the largest mosque in New Zealand is under fire for stating, at a public demonstration, that “the Mossad” – Israel’s national intelligence agency – was behind the mass shooting at two mosques earlier this month.
The country’s human rights commission, an independent statutory body, responded to reporting on the claim by saying, “Prejudice against Jewish people has no place in New Zealand. We must condemn racism, hate and anti-semitism whenever we see it.”
The Israeli Embassy on Thursday called the allegation “absurd” and “regrettable,” but voiced confidence that Muslim community leaders and all New Zealanders “utterly” reject the sentiment.
A New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson said members of the Muslim community have reached out to the Jewish community, denouncing and apologizing for the statement.
“That they feel compelled to apologize and are so upset by this in their time of suffering is terrible, but it is heartwarming as well,” said Juliet Moses. “If any good can come of this massacre, I hope it is that our communities unite to defeat the ideology that wants to eradicate us both.”
The lone gunman, a 27-year-old Australian and declared white supremacist named Brenton Tarrant, is on trial after 50 people were killed and dozens more injured in the March 15 shootings in Christchurch.
At a rally in Auckland, Ahmed Bhamji, chairman of the Masjid e Umar in the city’s Mt. Roskill neighborhood, said investigations need to be made into where the gunman got his guns and money.
“Do you think this guy was alone? Do you think, you know – I want to ask you, where did he get the funding from?”
Bhamji cited reports that Tarrant had traveled widely, and had lived in New Zealand for two years, apparently without working.
“I will not mince words. 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 yelled, “That’s the truth. Israel’s behind it, that’s right!”
“And not only them,” Bhamji continued. “There are some business houses also who are around, you know, Zionist business houses, that are behind him.”
He said investigations “need to look at that angle.”
Organizers of the “anti-racism” rally, including the man who had handed Bhamji the microphone, stood silently by as he made the allegations.
‘Horrified and offended’
In a statement the Israeli Embassy said “[t]he absurd accusation made by Mr. Bhamji is a regrettable expression of the basest anti-Semitic prejudice and we are confident that it is utterly rejected by the Muslim community leadership and by all New Zealanders.”
“All the Israeli people, along with the people of New Zealand, mourned the horrendous terror massacre against Muslim worshippers in Christchurch,” it said, and conveyed again, on behalf of the embassy and the State of Israel, condolences to those affected by the shootings.
Bhamji’s claim was a jarring note in a country that has witnessed a strong and united community response to the mosque attack, the most deadly mass shooting in New Zealand’s history.
On social media, prominent Muslims distanced themselves from the comments.
One, High Court lawyer Umar Abdul Kaddus, said he was “horrified and offended that [Bhamji] made these ridiculous and hurtful comments towards the Jewish community.”
“I was on the ground in Christchurch and I saw Rabbis and Jewish community leaders coming to support and pray with us for the victims and their families,” he said in a Facebook post.
“This narrative is his own uneducated irresponsible twisted opinion and is condemned at all levels by our Muslim community,” wrote another, Tabrez Ali. “Such leaders should not be given a podium to speak for others unless it’s to promote what we stand for as a nation.”
Jewish leaders reached out to Muslim congregations in the aftermath of the shootings, and both mosques and synagogues were closed due to security concerns.
In his lengthy manifesto posted online just before the shooting, Tarrant did not specifically threaten Jews, although he said “mostly” agrees with the views of the 20th century British fascist politician Oswald Mosley, an avowed anti-Semite.
“A jew [sic] living in israel [sic] is no enemy of mine, so long as they do not seek to subvert or harm my people,” Tarrant wrote.
He also said he does not hate Muslims who are “living in their homelands,” but affirmed that there was an “anti-Islamic motivation” for the attacks and a desire for revenge against Islam for “1,300 years of war and devastation.”
After the Christchurch shootings, Iran’s state-owned Tasnim news agency quoted a “counter-terrorism analyst” as saying the Mossad benefits most from a war between Muslims and the West.
“I believe this entire event is a false flag event,” the “analyst” said, adding that the massacre “seems to be a psychological operation designed to manipulate the public for a political agenda – which appears to be a Zionist operation.”