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COMMENTARY: Israel unfairly singled out during climate change protests

Congratulations to the students on our campus for raising awareness of climate change issues last Friday afternoon, during the rally on Voorhees Hall.

But what was the purpose of the presence of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)? Apparently, simply to bash Israel, for, among other things, the wall that separates Israeli and the Palestinian territories.

But why single out Israel for such a wall? Such walls also exist (or are presently under construction) between the following countries: Botswana and Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, Argentina and Paraguay, Egypt and Gaza, India and Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, Iran and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Thailand and Malaysia, Hungary and Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, Macedonia and Greece, Norway and Russia, Slovenia and Croatia, among others.

Why cry only for the wildlife in the Israel-Palestine zone? Do the animals in these other places not deserve the same compassion?

Moreover, Israel is a world leader in the environmental movement, with technological developments in drip irrigation, solar energy, desalination, aeroponic farming and more — much of which it exports to developing nations, especially in Africa.

I personally have raised thousands of dollars for the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brings together Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian students to study together, and which serves as a driver for environmental initiatives throughout the region.

Most strikingly, Israel ranks No. 19 in the most recent Environmental Performance Index, just behind New Zealand and the Netherlands, just ahead of Japan and Australia, and in fact several places above Canada and the U.S.

By contrast, Gaza, which has been a totally self-governing territory, administered by Hamas since 2007, is an environmental disaster with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and contaminated beaches.  To be sure, the locals blame the Israelis for these conditions, but the truth is, Hamas does almost nothing to protect the environment.

Furthermore, as indicated above, not only Israel, but also Egypt has constructed a wall on its border with Gaza.  To repeat the above question: is there some reason why only Israel is criticized for this action? If such criticism is merited, should Egypt be similarly criticized?

I certainly do not approve of all the policies instituted by the government of Israel, not only regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but on an entire range of issues. But to single out Israel for unwarranted criticism, especially in light of its stellar environmental record, tells us more about SJP than it does about climate change issues both in the Middle East and throughout the world.  

One suspects, accordingly, that it is not Israel’s policies related to the environment and climate change which moves SJP to raise its voices, but rather other issues, totally unrelated to the matter at hand. If such be the case, I ask the members of the group: Where is your criticism of Myanmar and Bangladesh, which together bear direct responsibility for the Rohingya refugee crisis, as approximately a million Muslims are caught in limbo between the two countries?

Where is your criticism of China, which has detained approximately a million Uyghurs in re-education camps, in an effort to denude its culture of Islam?

Where is your criticism of Syria, where a despotic leader and his regime have killed hundreds of thousands of their own citizens? 

Where is your criticism of all the parties engaged in war in Yemen — the Houthis, the Saudis, their allies and more — which have brought death, famine, cholera and destruction to the beautiful country? Does your silence imply that you approve of the Houthi army populating its ranks with child soldiers?

Where is your criticism of the various parties in South Sudan, where the civil war has killed 400,000 innocent people and has led to 1.75 million people being displaced from their homes?

Where is your criticism of Iran with its well-known human rights violations against the LGBTQ+ community?

Where is your criticism of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, with its nationalist tendencies, which recently has taken various steps to suppress the Muslim minority in the country? 

By contrast, in Israel and Palestine, there have been no mass killings, no mass deportations, no wars that have brought famine and cholera, no mass re-education camps, no removal of citizenship, no detentions of academics and journalists: none of this.

Finally, returning to climate change issues, where is your criticism of Indonesia, which indiscriminately cuts down the rain forest to make room for palm tree groves, actions which have caused – indeed, as you were gathering on Friday – the worst air pollution on the planet?

Do you not watch the news?  Are you not concerned citizens of the world?  Or is your attention so focused on Israel and Palestine, about which you invent calumnies, that you wear blinders to the truly crucial trouble spots in the world?

 Gary A. Rendsburg is the Laurie Chair in Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University.

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