On 26th June Jonathan Freedland writing in the Guardian made a ridiculous suggestion that in 2007 that I had named Israel as “the single greatest cause of climate change”. He went on to suggest that I have a “a cast of mind that sees the worst events in the world and determinedly put Israel at the centre …Whatever horrors are unfolding, the hidden hand of the world’s only majority Jewish country must be secretly behind them” – thus clearly suggesting deep antisemitism.
I was astonished that anyone would say such a ridiculous thing. I am very critical of Israel’s cruelty towards the Palestinians and grave breaches of international law but “the single greatest cause of climate change” Israel is most certainly not.
I wrote to the Guardian on 27th June. After lots of toing and froing and reference to the ‘Reader’s Editor’, they eventually published my letter on 6th July:
Of course, I have never suggested that Israel was “the greatest single cause of the climate crisis”. Wherever did Jonathan Freedland get such an idea from? Scraping through my memory, I now think I can see where this suggestion comes from.
Some years ago I had links with an organisation that commissioned a legal opinion that found that the EU was in breach of the provisions of its trade treaty with Israel. The treaty lays down that both parties must respect international norms and human rights. It provides a procedure to be invoked if either side breaches the treaty. Clearly Israel is in grave breach of international law, as was laid down in the International Court of Justice advisory opinion of 2004. These breaches are continuing as are frequent violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I attended a meeting in Brussels with European parliamentarians with whom we shared the legal opinion, in order to try to build up pressure for use of the trade treaty to hold Israel to international law. I presume that on that occasion I made arguments, that I often make, that facing the catastrophic challenge of climate change, we need the multilateral system to work and not to be undermined.
Israel should be held to account for its constant cruelties and breaches of international law. It is the EU, the UK, the US and many others who are failing to hold Israel to account and are therefore further undermining the multilateral system.
Antisemitism is a great evil that has inflicted endless suffering and culminated in one of the greatest crimes in human history. False claims of antisemitism to prevent Israel being held to account, as should any nation, are a misuse of the seriousness of the real history of antisemitism.
The correspondence with the Readers’ Editor later made it clear that the meeting Freedland was referring to was the UN International Conference of Civil Society In Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Brussels, 30-31 August 2007). There is an official account of the meeting including my remarks here.
There is no mention of climate change.
Then through the comments of the Readers Editor, I find the account of the meeting Freedland is relying on. It is a diatribe against the UN meeting that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 3rd September 2007. It refers to my concerns about the failure to hold Israel to account undermining the multilateral system which we need to deal with climate change. Freedland 13 years later claims this was a claim that “Israel was the single greatest cause of climate change.”
The suggestion was then repeated in an imitative article in the Telegraph on 13th Sep 2007. Interestingly, no one contacted me about this at the time, when I was still an MP, presumably because the allegation was so ridiculous.
Obviously I object to false allegations and smears of this kind but beyond my concerns, this is a clear example of how the smear of allegations of antisemitism work. False allegations of antisemitism are made in order to undermine those who dare to be critical of Israel’s cruelties and breaches of international law. As I say in my letter, apart from the disgraceful dishonesty of such smears, this it is also a terrible misuse of the reality of antisemitism which has inflicted such cruelty on so many, culminating in the Holocaust. it is disgraceful to demean the seriousness of this history by making false allegations.