TRIBUTES have been paid to John Key, whose mother was a Jewish refugee from Austria, following his announcement this week that he is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Addressing a regular weekly news conference on Monday, Key, who has held the post for eight years, described it as “the hardest decision I’ve ever made”.
He said, “Being leader of both the party and the country has been an incredible experience. But despite the amazing career I have had in politics, I have never seen myself as a career politician.”
Key added that spending more time with his family was one of the major factors influencing his decision.
Key’s late mother, Ruth Lazar, fled Austria in 1938. A refugee in Britain, she married an Englishman before immigrating to New Zealand in the 1950s.
Key’s father died when he was six; he and his two siblings grew up in government-funded housing. Before entering politics, Key became a millionaire, working in London as a currency trader with Merrill Lynch.
Opening an International Holocaust Remembrance Day exhibition in Auckland in 2013, Key, who rarely talks about his Jewish heritage, told about 200 people of his mother’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria in 1938.
The Prime Minister recalled times his mother was “crying in the corner” after hearing news reports recounting atrocities from the Holocaust, the New Zealand Herald reported.
“People often asked, why is it that I can’t speak German,” Key said. “The simple answer is my mother refused to teach me. She did not want to reflect on her history.”
Following his election to serve a third term in September 2014, Alison Dyson, president of the Jewish Federation of New Zealand, said, “I believe the Jewish community will be pleased with the result.
“The election centred mainly around economic policy and John Key’s roots would not have been a major factor in the vote among Jews or others.”
However, she added: “John Key’s government has in the past shown greater sympathy to Israel and the Jewish community than the previous [Labour] government, and during the most recent conflict with Gaza the foreign affairs department was not very outspoken and was reasonably balanced in their comments.”
On hearing of Key’s announcement, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent him a text message, which read, “Say it ain’t so, bro.”
Turnbull told reporters that Key was “one of the most outstanding national leaders in the world today”.
New Zealand Opposition Leader Andrew Little said, “The Prime Minister has served New Zealand through times of considerable global instability, and will leave politics proud of his achievements.”
AJN STAFF WITH JTA