In a radio interview last week, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, summed up the just-ended annual UN General Assembly. Asked about the intensified focus this year on the climate crisis, Danon answered, "It’s important and we should be discussing it more, but from our perspective the fact that Israel is not being discussed [at the UN] is an achievement."
I doubt Danon was actually taking credit for having engineered global warming as a crafty stratagem for taking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict off the UNGA’s agenda. Though I wouldn’t totally put it past him.
I think he was merely making, in his obtuse way, a perfectly valid observation. The world is no longer focused on Israel, and the Palestinian cause is no longer fashionable. Even at the UN, the plight of the Palestinians has been overshadowed by the future of the planet. Greta Thunberg is in. Ahed Tamimi is out.
Our occupation has been going off the global agenda boil for a while now, kept just-alive in the public sphere mainly by a tiny handful of news organizations and a few young left-wing American Jews. But even its most dependable cheerleaders seem to have moved on.
The usually reliable Desmond Tutu said this week that it was climate change, not Israel, which is "the apartheid of our times," calling upon corporations to divest from fossil fuel.
In an ideal world it should be possible to fight for two causes simultaneously; to call for urgent action on the climate and justice for the Palestinians at the same time. But the sad truth is that no matter what the theorists of intersectionality tell you, human attention span is limited, and not all injustices can be fought in one go.
As it is, the anti-Israel campaign has for a while been gradually pushed in to increasingly fringe venues, like the ritual ten minutes of hate at the annual conference of the Corbynist Labour Party.
The world is tired of our never-ending conflict and, with the exception of a few obsessives, has accepted the grim fact that it can’t impose a solution on the two sides.
A generation of high-level diplomacy has been beaten by intransigence on the ground and the BDS "movement" has been revealed as nothing more than a motley group of cyber-bullies. Hanging out with a keffiyeh wrapped around your neck just isn’t cool anymore. Extinction Rebellion is where things are now. And if it wasn’t the climate, then it would be something else.
Whataboutism is a lousy argument, but it speaks to a basic truth. The levels of attention and energy expended on certain issues are rarely commensurate to their actual importance and magnitude in the general scheme of things.
Danon was right about one thing, after decades in which the Palestinian issue eclipsed many other worthy causes, those infernal do-gooding busybodies have something much bigger to sink their teeth in to now.
And while he is the first person I’m aware of who has put it in such blunt zero-sum terms, there is already a small cohort of hasbara-ists who have been busy for a while burnishing Israel’s eco-credentials.
You can bet that a certain type of blogger who routinely accuses Israel of pinkwashing, when it presents itself as an LGBT paradise, will soon be bleating about "Zionist greenwashing."
And to be fair, Israel is well-positioned for a green makeover. The refinery and petrochemical factories in Haifa continue to spew cancerous fumes unhindered, and the state treasury’s main income remains tax on cars and petrol. But that isn’t what the world is going to see and hear about Israel in the next few years.
Get ready for slick PR campaigns on the revolutionary methods of water management and cutting-edge solar energy networks. All true by the way. And of course, as taps run dry across the region, there’ll be all those news features on how thanks to being a world-leader in desalination, Israel provides the Palestinians with 64 million cubic meters of water each year.
Don’t be surprised if, in a couple of years, the solution for isolated Gaza’s woes will be dressed up in environmental, rather than political terms, and Hamas will be accused of provoking an ecological disaster.
Unlike the Republicans in the United States who are boxed into climate denialism by the dictates of industrialist donors and the anti-science tendencies of Christian evangelicals, Israeli nationalists can easily present themselves as eco-warriors.
The Torah’s environmental streak literally emerges from the laws of war and the prohibition in Deuteronomy not to destroy fruit trees while laying siege to an enemy city, and Zionism’s foundational myth was about making the wilderness bloom.
As temperatures rise and polar bears starve on melting ice caps, democracy and human rights will take a backseat to keeping the sea-level rise at bay. The Startup Nation is about to become a great solar-powered light unto the nations. Let the great greenwashing begin.
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