“Nazi-Free Zone” : Anti-Semitism in the 99%

Ian Anderson

Many readers will have heard about the fascist vandalism at Symonds Street Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Auckland. Swastikas, 88 signs, and the slogan Fuck Israel[1] were scrawled across the gravestones of people who died before Israel was founded as a state. This was not the first time fascists in this country have vandalised Jewish gravestones; similar attacks occurred in 2004.

The weekend after the Symonds Street vandalism, members of the community gathered in the cemetery to state their opposition to fascism and anti-Semitism. Some associated with the Aotearoa not for Sale campaign played a role in organising this event. Placards bore the slogan, “Nazi-Free Zone.”

The following week, three men were arrested in connection with the crimes. One of the accused, Nathan Symington, spoke to the press denying his guilt, stating “I’ve got all my alibis worked out.” For some, the next shock came when it turned out Symington had slept at Occupy Auckland and marched in the Auckland stretch of the Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi.

Symington’s Facebook profile features swastikas, pictures of him performing a Nazi salute, and racist status updates. Whether or not Symington is a vandal, he is a fascist and an anti-Semite. When he attended the Aotearoa is Not For Sale march, he bore a skateboard with swastikas chalked on to it; on Facebook he captioned this, “nationalism is the key.”

Nathan Symington’s use of swastikas at Aotearoa is Not For Sale (Auckland).

Broad campaigns: Room for fascism?

Occupy Auckland and Aotearoa is Not For Sale are not explicitly racist or fascist campaigns, any more than they are explicitly communist. However, they are broad churches containing many currents, and fascists such as Symington apparently felt welcome.

Aotearoa is Not For Sale is a campaign against privatisation of state assets, which has some soft nationalist aspects in opposing foreign capitalist ownership. Although left social-democratic support for state ownership is not the same thing as fascism, the emphasis on foreign (rather than private, capitalist) control does confirm fascist beliefs that “nationalism is the key.” The Workers Party argues that local capitalist ownership is no better than foreign ownership, using the slogan “Aotearoa is not for Sale to local or foreign capitalists” and calling for greater public control over assets. As well as supporting democratic public management – not present under the current SOE scheme – we are internationalists, who see more in common with people in struggle across the globe than capitalists in Aotearoa.

Occupy is grouped around memes such as “the 99%,” calling for a form of social justice that is open to negotiation by the participants. In Aotearoa, Occupy has seen internal struggles over fascism and anti-Semitism. In 2011, an individual at Occupy Wellington wanted to invite members of the National Front (a Neo-Nazi organisation) on Flag Day. Many occupiers were unfamiliar with the National Front, and unaware of the implications. Queer participants, Jewish participants, and communists opposed any place for Neo-Nazis within Occupy. While we won that particular argument at a General Assembly that evening, it opened up a long-running and contentious discussion.

Although most members of Occupy Wellington were far from being fascist sympathisers, many held other notions which support anti-Semitism. Conspiracy theories such as the Rothschild conspiracy, drawing on anti-Semitic narratives about Jewish bankers running the world,[2] were and continue to be popular among those trying to grapple with the problem of capitalism. A Jewish participant ran a workshop against conspiracy theories, which was reprinted on the Workers Party website here: http://tinyurl.com/8nxkjcr.

Many problematic ideas can be addressed through collective discussion, but fascist ideology cannot be allowed any space in this process. Occupiers objected that this meant excluding members of “the 99%,” a slogan which demands closer examination.

Conspiracy theories at Occupy.

Inclusive organising: “We are the 99%”

The slogan “we are the 99%” partly captured the discontent of a protracted economic crisis, the reality that a minority (the 1%) continue to profit from the misery of the majority (the 99%). It also implies common interest, and some use it to highlight the need for inclusiveness.

However, slogans about “the 99%” are only a starting point, and our understanding cannot stop there. While most people would benefit from building a system based on social need, the so-called 99% is hugely stratified and ghettoised.

Some of our diversity must be acknowledged as a necessary, and productive, part of our political work. Women might have insight into the daily experience of sexism, while conversely to overcome sexism it’s necessary to draw men into some anti-sexist work. Academics and meat workers might understand different aspects of capitalism, but meat workers are generally more able to stop production at freezing works. In general we need to involve a wide range of complimentary forces to overcome the problems of our current system, and the concept of the 99% implies that at a very basic level.

However, we don’t all have an interest in overcoming oppression, or realise that interest. The head of a company might not statistically be in the top global 1%, but they still profit from exploitation. A police officer might have a low income, but they still brutalise protestors. Fascists come from many walks of life, but they firmly believe a significant swathe of the 99% – including Jewish, queer and disabled people – should be exterminated at worst, further marginalised at best.

By including some people in a political process, we exclude or marginalise others[3]

Building a “Nazi-Free Zone”

We all have a lot to learn. Collective education, discussion and consciousness-raising are important political work. However, sometimes it is necessary to draw a line; if someone openly believes that Jews should be exterminated, they can have no place in a progressive political project.

The fascist movement in this country is relatively weak; this year the National Front mobilised less than 30 people for Flag Day, their annual march on parliament. In Greece, fascist group Golden Dawn have thousands of members and connections in the police force, and openly roam the streets attacking the vulnerable. Vandalising gravestones in the night may be small-scale and cowardly by contrast, but it is no more acceptable than Golden Dawn’s activities.

Aotearoa Not For Sale (Auckland) recently called a Street Party Against Privatisation, and Symington joined the event on Facebook. Someone raised his potential presence as an issue, and their comments were deleted. Subsequent comments on this issue were deleted, and the event was locked to prevent further comments. Organisers stated that they did not support violence, but that they could not restrict someone from a public event.

Immediately after the attacks on Symonds Street Cemetery, protestors bore placards proclaiming a “Nazi-Free Zone.” Many slogans are aspirational, long-term, statements of principle. However this particular slogan could be immediately put into practice, if progressive organisers made it explicit that fascists are not welcome at their events.

[1]          This blog post by a Jewish anti-Zionist responded to the co-optation of Palestinian struggles by Neo-Nazis: http://tinyurl.com/92ncspa

[2]          While the conspiracy theory holds that the Rothschilds are a united dynasty running world capitalism, they in fact have very little influence since the post-WWII formation of the International Monetary Fund and do not even rank in the top 100 public firms. A sceptical analysis of the Rothschild conspiracy theory can be found here: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4311

[3]          Kassie Hartendorp’s “Safer Spaces in Political Organising” deals more with the question of creating political spaces that aim not to marginalise: http://tinyurl.com/8emue5g


  1. I’m an organiser with Aotearoa is Not For Sale, and a member of Socialist Aotearoa. I was also an original organiser of Occupy Auckland, being involved from Day -7 to the end. Finally, I worked beside Joe Carolan to organise the snap demonstration against fascism in the Jewish cemetery.

    Anyone who thinks we are soft on fascism has got rocks in their head. All the organizations that I’ve cited are constantly vigilant and working against fascism. The marches and events that we organize are attended by thousands of people. All of this is done by an amazingly small group of dedicated volunteers. The fact that a crazy or malicious person occasionally slips through or is mishandled is hardly surprising, and unfortunately, unavoidable. Anyone who has ever organized an event in Auckland knows that mental illness is rife. The mentally ill cannot be chased away, there is a degree to which you simply have to put up with it. Malicious people and neo Nazis holding skateboards are hard to spot against this constant background noise.

    What I do find surprising however is just how quickly critics can build a monsterous political edifice on such slender scraps, while completely ignoring the obvious and manifest anti-fascist policies of all of these organizations as they have been consistently demonstrated throughout their history.

    I believe this failure to acknowledge our successes says more about these isolated critics and their desperate need to find relevancy than it does about the issues or the organizations involved.

    • “I believe this failure to acknowledge our successes says more about these isolated critics and their desperate need to find relevancy than it does about the issues or the organizations involved.

      Except the article does talk about your anti-fascist actions, the headline uses one of your slogans. Just suggesting that the best way to follow up on that would be to clearly indicate that fascists are not welcome at events (latest post says that everyone who opposes asset sales is welcome, so that still includes Symington if he decides to show).

      SA may not be responsible for this, but deleting all comments raising the issue also wasn’t a good look. But I’m aware things can snowball quickly online and that’s not always representative – just saying, it could be better and more explicitly handled.

      We’ve dealt with similar problems in Wellington.

    • “Anyone who has ever organized an event in Auckland knows that mental illness is rife. The mentally ill cannot be chased away, there is a degree to which you simply have to put up with it.”

      What has mental illness to to do with Facism? why would we want to exclude an oppressed group from events?

    • thelittlepakeha says:

      Hi, I’m mentally ill, not sure why you bring up the prospect of chasing people like me away in a post about ANFS’ refusal to simply change their “everyone is welcome” message to “except facists”. It’s pretty hard to deny that not actually saying facists aren’t welcome and also deleting all comments suggesting this solution looks pretty bad. If you say he’s not welcome then you have recourse to tell him to leave if he shows up.

  2. Mod hat: Abusive comments will not be published.

  3. Firstly I will congratualte Ian, this is an important argument and needs to be debated, as many are aware economic desperation plays not only into the hands of revolution, but allows the rise of the army of reaction. However there are a number of inaccuracies and I feel the overall feeling may be hard on some activists. As I have been involved in ANFS from it’s very inception. I have knowledge of which the author may be unaware.
    Te propaganda first announcing the formation of ANFS and promoting the first march explicitly stated that ANFS was opposed to the sale of assets to any both domestic and foreign as to do so would simply advance the exploitation of the majority. In the proud tradition of our comrade James Conolly coats neither red nor green. It may be that this message may have become defuse over time and the many activists recruited, thus needing reiteration.
    Further the use of the word ‘Aotearoa’ is a purposeful and direct aknowledgement of tino, and maori right within New Zealand, hardly facist.
    It is true that many of the activists within the ANFS movement lack a conception of the nature of the facist threat or how to combat it. It is likely that this deficit is in a large part due to a profound failure within the far left to engage on a grassroots level with many of the mass struggle that have occured since the 1980’s. However Socialist Aotearoa has taken the initiative to both support ANFS both in the organisation of the anti-facist demonstration inluding the participation palestinan activists. As well as organising a number of discussions to advance the position and vigilance of ANFS against facism, Such is SA’s dedication to combating facism through grassroots action and education. Further more an anti facist network is being established to deny facists any platform! I am keen to hear about the plans of the Workers Party.
    The recent shutdown of the facebook page in regards to the participation of someone who may have facist links further reinforces the need for intervention.
    However I am concerned that this article may also understate the facist threat and place overbearing responsibility on ANFS to confront it.
    The fascists withtin New Zealand have been more active than this article implies and their recent ‘achievments’ include a 160 strong march in christchurch an interview with Kyle Chapman on Q+A and an uncontested march to wellington of some 40 facists, Additionally the international threat that fascist pose is serious, globally their has been an upswell of facist activity. We must look at the stratergies used internationally to combat this threat, analyse and use the lessons learned within our own contex. This enhances the need for an anti facist front. on an international level something I believe ANFS with it’s national focus is usuited for.

    Fraternally yours,

    David J

    • Thanks for your constructive comment, sorry about the delay approving – we’ve had a couple of abusive comments so I’ve been tight about that.

      First off ANFS has a definite progressive aspect, otherwise we wouldn’t support it. We have defended it in the past

      Few further things:

      -Around 2004-5, the far-right activity (with Destiny Church and National Front marching together) spurred a fairly solid reaction. The National Front at that point quickly degenerated and Kyle Chapman stepped back. However I think the decision whether to “contest” a march is a tactical one, not sure it’s appropriate when their numbers are parodically low (as with Flag Day 2012). That’s open for debate, Chapman has certainly been gathering forces in Christchurch.

      -However I think a key point is that fascists are not welcome in any area of *our* work, including in ANFS events. It’s a broad campaign, but it’s a responsibility of socialists to ensure that racism is not welcome in a broad campaign. WP has applied that principle when it’s come up at Occupy.

      -Agreed that studying international, and historical efforts is necessary. I think “no platform” has to be our bottom line.

  4. Hi Linda, not sure if we’ve met but if not hope to one day. I agree with what you say about pseudo-leftists using slender scraps. If you have the inclination you might want to read a detailed article we did that defends the campaign:


    It even, shock and horror, mentions the positive roles of other socialist groups in NZ or in the asset sales campaign instead of pretending they don’t exist, which is the practice of Socialist Aotearoa. I’m open to challenge on that though, if you can find an article published by SA which refutes that.

    I’m not the unity police, but a failure to objectively view the merits or standing of other socialist organisations will certainly become a problem for your organisation and for you as a revolutionary interpreting the struggle over time.

    In fact it already has, as you call-out ‘isolated’ at an organisation which had 120 at its national conference this year, comprised of people from community groups, communities (Newtown supporters), unions, MANA, ISO, GLBT struggle etc. I.e. probably the best-attended socialist conf in NZ in a couple of decades. Our presence is small in Auckland, tiny in fact, but you might want to check outside your immediate orbit.

    Cheers, Jared.

  5. Joe Carolan gave a good speech on the day:

    I think it was clear enough that fascists weren’t going to be welcome. I think there was an element of internet beat up on the people organising this. Whether they said he was welcome or not is not as important as what they were doing to make the place an anti-fasc space in practice and not just on the internet.
    I think there were problems with the way it was dealt with. But at the same time, I think that various people totally went overboard on the “soft on fascism” line. Most of the key ANFS people were at the Jewish grave-site the next morning (I happened to be in Auckland at the time).
    We do need to engage in ongoing discussions about the best way to deal with fascists when they show up. But there is a problem when one way of dealing with them is framed as the “right” way and any others are “wrong” or “soft”.

    • There are many commandments in Jewish History not just 10 from Moses, number 614 is “Do not give Hitler any posthumous victories.” I look at your debate and as a unionist a left winger and a Jew I am horrified at the ignorance displayed. If you want to make yourself aware of antisemitism just wear a kipper to one of your gatherings and see the arguments surround you.

  6. Nate isnt a Nazi, or a Fascist, I know him… So what, he took a few pictures with his mates? All young people fuck around. Nate is Romanian, got a Maori partner and daughter, he isn’t a Nazi, lol… I sit with Nate reading articles on him like this and we laugh at how wrong you are.

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