As a possibly historic People’s Climate March in New York City approaches this weekend, a debate among participants and the organizers over Israel-aligned co-sponsors smolders below the surface.
Since the turn of the century especially, climate justice activists have aimed to raise public awareness and shift national policies regarding the catastrophically growing buildup of carbon-based fuels (and the resulting emission of carbon dioxide) overloading Earth’s atmosphere. An international consensus among scientists maintains that human societies must act before it is too late. In other words, possible extinction of the species is imminent and humanity may only have the span of a few years to do something about it.
In the US, poor communities (especially communities of color) would likely feel the harshest effects first. Societies in the Global South have already been enduring climate change emergencies while leading the world in protection efforts.
Preceding the UN Climate Summit on 23 September, activists organized the People’s Climate March, expecting the turnout to be the “largest demonstration for climate action in history.” More than twenty thousand people have confirmed their attendance on the march’s Facebook page.
In 2000, the term “climate justice” first entered public discourse during the UN’s Climate Change Summit at The Hague, when the Rising Tide network organized an alternative summit, admonishing the “developed” nations and urging efforts to fix the problem, since they caused the mess.
The majority of fossil fuels are used in the industrial nations, whose economies are overwhelmingly dependent on coal- and oil-based energy.
South Asian author and activist Harsha Walia posted on the upcoming climate march’s page expressing concern about Israel-aligned groups as event co-sponsors. “At a time when Israeli war crimes are massacring Palestinian people, how is a climate justice march (ostensibly rooted in social justice and human rights) aligning themselves with Zionism?” asked Walia, who identifies as a migrant justice and Palestine solidarity activist, on the march’s page.
On their websites, several organizations co-sponsoring the march indeed explicitly have expressed support for Israel or Israel’s military.
The People’s Climate March organizers responded, quoting their event website, that the march “will bring together a spectrum of people with a broad range of perspectives” who have “agreed to gather peacefully on common ground to support the shared common goal: Solving the climate crisis.”
Unsatisfied by the response, a “Free Palestine!” bloc has been organized as part of the march, to counter the involvement of Israel-aligned groups. According to the page’s description: “Given the current massacre of the Palestinian people at the behest of a US/Israeli military-industrial complex that is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world,” the bloc’s Facebook page reads, “having Zionists at a climate justice march doesn’t seem to make sense.” Roughly 600 people have confirmed attendance on the group’s Facebook page.
Challenging “Green” Israel
The story reaches far beyond several Israel-aligned groups sponsoring a single climate march. Faced with consistent negative global perceptions over state policies in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the region, the Israeli foreign ministry officially launched the “Brand Israel” campaign in 2006. With the help of US marketing executives, the Israeli government poured in enormous resources to “rebrand” Israel in a positive light upon the world. By 2010, the ministry allotted some $26 million for branding efforts.
Part of the spin campaign comes under the guise of protecting the environment. In June 2012, Israel, for the first time, launched “an international television campaign on CNN to brand itself as a green country which pioneers ‘green technology,’” its US embassy stated. “Israel advertises its green technology edge to strengthen its image as a ‘Green Country,” according to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Efforts to rebrand Israel explicitly aim to divert attention away from Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, instead focusing on Israel’s positively spun and frequently overblown “green” achievements. The mission of the Green Zionist Alliance (GZA), a co-sponsor of the People’s Climate March, harmonizes with Israel’s rebranding campaigns.
Spokespeople from the Green Zionist Alliance were not available for comment, directing inquiries to their website. GZA’s statement on Gaza this summer attempts to equalize the disproportion of violence and calls for a two-state solution. Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” lasted 51 days, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed (mostly civilians, including more than 500 children), as well as five Israeli civilians (including one child), a Thai migrant worker, and 66 Israeli soldiers.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Israel ranks at the bottom 33 out of 36 countries in “water quality” and 25 out of 36 countries in air pollution.
In order to mask Israel’s ongoing military occupation and colonization of the occupied territories and to hide its poor record when it comes to adverse environmental impacts, the Israeli government and its allies abroad continue to pour enormous resources into branding projects.
Israel: part of US failure on climate change
Countering Israeli “greenwashing” can be an inroad to pressuring the United States as Israel’s leading patron. During Israel’s summer 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip, the US delivered its latest shipment of jet fuel for the Israeli military. Between 2013 and 2014 the US has delivered thousands of tons of fuel to Israel for military purposes, along with $3 billion in yearly military aid and other unique economic and political perks enjoyed by no other country.
The US is also a relevant target for social pressure on climate change because its policies (and lack thereof) represent perhaps the world’s single greatest prospect for helping or harming the dismal climate situation. The fact that the richest, most powerful country in the world has no national policy limiting fossil fuel use continues to stifle any meaningful efforts to deal with climate change.
Nevertheless, there are countries whose national commitments to environmental justice and holding Israel accountable provide a model for other nations, including the US, to emulate.
Bolivia has enacted unparalleled environmental protection rights and leads the hemisphere (if not the world) in its level of criticism of Israel. Bolivia severed diplomatic relations with Israel in protest over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians (again, the vast majority civilians) in winter 2008-2009.
Since that time Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has called for international criminal genocide charges against Israel. Most recently, Morales declared Israel a “terrorist state” and canceled a visa exemption agreement that had formerly allowed Israelis to travel freely in Bolivia without a visa.
In 2010, Bolivia passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, conferring unprecedented rights on nature equal to those of humans. The conceptual building blocks for industrial nations in Europe and North America to follow Bolivia’s indigenous leadership can be found in the “Charter of the Forests,” traced to the thirteenth-century Magna Carta, the origin of modern western constitutional law.
The People’s Climate March in New York City has the power to demonstrate the widening groundswell of public concern over climate change. With enough social pressure, even the US can follow Bolivia’s lead, both in holding Israel accountable and setting down the path to broad-based environmental action on which a livable future depends.