Sierra Club Cancels Trip to Israel After Accusations of “Greenwashing”

The Sierra Club has canceled their upcoming trip to Israel after various activists accused the Oakland-based environmental group of “greenwashing.”
March 14, 2022
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The Sierra Club has canceled their upcoming trip to Israel after various activists accused the Oakland-based environmental group of “greenwashing.”

The Jewish News of Northern California (The J) reported that “greenwashing” is “a term used by critics of Israel to refer to the act of obscuring Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by focusing on the country’s liberal environmental values or policies.” The J had obtained an email from Mary Owens, the chair of The Sierra Club’s National Outings Team, announcing the cancellation, stating that “a Jewish American activist” had urged them to cancel the trip in January, prompting the environmental organization to respond that they don’t cancel “trips due to regional conflicts or politics.” A month later, the activist claimed to have garnered a coalition of progressive activists who were going to publicly accuse the Sierra Club of “violating the organizational values it recently rolled out” if they didn’t cancel the trip by March 7.

Owens wrote in the email that she and the Outings Team were opposed to canceling the trip and are “very disappointed” by the decision. She lamented that the organization had set “a terrible precedent” with their cancellation of the Israel trip. The J also quoted David Neumann, a longtime Jewish member of The Sierra Club based in Oregon, as saying that the cancellation essentially imposed a “purity test” on the Sierra Club and was a “capitulation” to these progressive groups. “These groups that call Israel an apartheid state — that’s so far out there,” Neumann said. “That’s so not mainstream. That’s crazy.”

Jewish groups excoriated The Sierra Club over the decision.

“Experiencing Israel through its environment, geology, history and people does not negate, nor ‘greenwash’ the pressing reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in a March 14 letter to Sierra Club Acting Executive Director Dan Chu. “Rather, such trips provide essential opportunities for first-hand enriching engagement into these complex issues.” Greenblatt added that the progressive activists who urged them to cancel the trip are embracing the tenet of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against efforts to “normalize” the Jewish state.

“They do not support constructive measures to build Israeli-Palestinian engagement, promote peace negotiations or a mutually negotiated two-state solution to the conflict,” he wrote. “Rather, the activists and the BDS campaign present a biased and simplistic approach to the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, positioning this dispute over territorial and nationalist claims as the fault of only one party – Israel – while ignoring other actors and dynamics. They call for pressuring and isolating Israel in order to advocate for self-determination for Palestinians while denying to Jews that same right.” Greenblatt concluded his letter by arguing that the Sierra Club folded to “a campaign that seeks to undermine and demonize Israel’s legitimacy, while doing nothing to promote understanding, reconciliation and ultimately peace.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, accused The Sierra Club of morphing into “an anti-Semitic polluter by caving to extremist anti-peace groups who seek to demonize, delegitimize, and eliminate the democratic Jewish State.” “We do not believe for one moment that such a draconian move came about because of a single email,” Cooper said in a statement. “Whether your leadership and supporters are aware of the sudden cancellation of regular trips to Israel—a country deeply involved in environmental issues—The Sierra Club was subject to a coordinated campaign by extremists. Your organization made no attempt to verify the allegations made by the hit squad of anti-Israel propagandists.”

Cooper also pointed to the fact that the Sierra Club is continuing its upcoming trip to China “whose regime is guilty of a genocide against the Uighur minority, destroys Christian Churches and crushed the people of Hong Kong.” Citing Natan Sharansky’s “3D” antisemitism test of double-standards, delegitimization and demonization, Cooper argued that “The Sierra Club is guilty of a dangerous double standard that feeds deadly toxic anti-Semitism of these anti-Israel extremists.” “We take note that The Sierra Club identifies one of its motivating goals as ‘standing up to the hate and intolerance that divide people and prevent progress,’” he added. “The sudden and unjust decision made by The Sierra Club makes a mockery of its stated goal. Boycotting the Jewish state feeds hate and intolerance, divides people and prevents progress toward the hoped-for goal of peace in the Holy Land.”

The Progressive Zionists of California launched a petition urging people to inform The Sierra Club that “Israel is part of the solution” to climate change and that the issue can unite both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “To single out Israel—apparently due to pressure from a few outspoken anti-Israel activists—does nothing to further Sierra Club’s mission, alienates the vast majority of American Jews who support the State of Israel (and who are a core, enthusiastic part of Sierra Club’s constituency) nor will it help build peace in a region ravaged by decades of conflict,” the petition stated.

Siamak Kordestani, West Coast Director of the Friends of the European Leadership Network (ELNET), tweeted, “Shame on @SierraClub for caving in to antisemites. Israel is a global leader in clean energy and water management. This only promotes antisemitism and weakens environmental advocacy, at a time when we need less hate and more environmental cooperation!”


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