SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Allegations that Israeli backpackers caught in February's massive earthquake may have been spies are roiling Jewish leaders in New Zealand.
Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, blasted the claims reported Wednesday in the Southland Times newspaper as "science fiction."
The paper claimed that four Israelis -- Ofer Mizrahi, Michal Fraidman, Liron Sade and Guy Jordan -- were the focus of an investigation by New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service amid fears that Israelis may have hacked into the national computer network. But police said Wednesday that they were confident their computer systems were secure.
Mizrahi, 23, was killed instantly while driving a van in Christchurch when the Feb. 22 earthquake struck. The other three Israelis left the country within 12 hours, the Southland Times reported.
The Security Intelligence Service became suspicious after "at least" five passports were found on Mizrahi, according to the newspaper report.
But Prime Minister John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee who escaped Europe before the Holocaust, said Wednesday that the investigation found "no evidence that the people were anything other than backpackers."
David Zwartz, chairman of the Wellington Regional Jewish Council, said that "Reactions received during the day from members of the Wellington Jewish community expressed disgust at the level of allegation and smear in the article."
"Once more a media beat-up at the expense of Israel," Zwartz added.
Three Israelis, including Mizrahi, were among the 181 fatalities in the disaster.
In 2004, two alleged Mossad agents were caught and jailed for stealing a Kiwi passport. New Zealand severed diplomatic ties with Israel for more than a year until Israel apologized.