Greenwashing event glosses over Israel’s atrocities

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Beginning on Wednesday, May 13 2020, continuing until June 5 2020, eight events under the banner of the Sustainable Global Leadership Academy will take place, organized in co-operation with World Connectors. These events were originally to take place at a country estate in The Netherlands called Landgoed Zonheuvel. However, due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the events are taking place on-line through Zoom. 

On its surface, this event seems compelling and even inspirational. However, beneath the surface it is clear this event is substantially aimed at Greenwashing human rights abuses by Israel.  

As documented by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East “Greenwashing is a practice that involves pretending to be environmentally friendly in order to deflect attention from criminal activity”. Greenwashing is a prominent feature of Israel’s occupation industry, from its solar industry to more wide-ranging efforts at hiding Israeli human rights abuses. 

According to the web-page and EventBrite announcement, the Sustainable Global Leadership Academy is aimed at providing “8 inspirational sessions by mentors and leaders in the field of sustainability”. The funds that are generated by the event are to benefit a Dutch project called the Lab for Future Generations (Lab Toekomstige Generaties).

The speakers are: Shlomo Shoham (a former Israeli judge and government official), Laurentien van Oranje (a social entrepreneur and member of the Dutch Royal family), Jan van de Venis (a human rights consultant), Jacob Raz (a professor of Zen Buddhism at Tel Aviv University in Israel), Johannes Meier (CEO of Xi GMBh), Tineke Lambooy (Professor of Corporate Law at Nyenrode Business University) and Lynn Zebeda (member of the board of World Connectors, who subsequently chose to withdraw her participation from this event – Ed.).

As noted on the website, originally there were to be 8 speakers. The eighth, who is no longer listed in the program, was Ravit Bar Niv, former chair of the Israeli corporation Shikun & Binui and CEO of Tnuva Ltd. She was removed from the program after it was brought to the organizers’ attention that the Tnuva Group had been blacklisted by human rights organizations for their complicity in human rights abuses.

However, concerns over this event go deeper than the involvement of Bar Niv. Apart from Bar Niv, the event is strongly tied to the speakers’ previous links with Israel, notably Shoham and Naz, who also contributed to the 2018 Sustainable Global Leadership Academy, which took place in Tel Aviv

Jacob Naz is professor at Tel Aviv University, which has been the focus of a longstanding boycott due in large part to its close links with the Israeli military.

Shlomo Shoham, the author of Future Intelligence and one of the Sustainable Global Leadership Academy’s keynote speakers, is a former judge and official adviser to the parliament in Israel. He is well-connected to the Israeli establishment. Shoham headed an Israeli delegation to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. In his book Shoham further elaborates his role as a Commissioner for Future Generations:

“In preparation for the Johannesburg summit, I, as Commissioner for Future Generations, participated in the final meetings of the interdepartmental committee established by the government for this purpose and, later, took an active part in representing Israel in various committees and events at the summit.”

Nowhere in his book, or in any other writings (that are available publicly), is there mention of Israel’s devastating environmental record in Palestinian territories that have been subject to Israeli military occupation since 1967. There is no mention of the extensive settlements and agricultural plantations located on stolen Palestinian land (illegal according to international law), which draw extensively on Palestinian aquifers, while Palestinians are subject to severe water restrictions. There is no mention of one law (civil law) for illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank; another law (military law) for the occupied Palestinian residents.

Typical of those who are closely linked to the Israeli political establishment, in all of his writings on the future or “preservation” of Israel, Palestinians are not mentioned at all by Shoham, as if they do not exist. Rather, when analyzing Israel’s look at the future, he refers to what he characterizes as a “problem” in Israel, namely that the country is always in “survival mode”. To illustrate this “problem”, on page 61, he compares Israel through the metaphor of a scared “kitten (that) had been thrown into our dog’s compound” and “faced an existential threat. When I tried to save it, it tried to scratch me, too.” 

The “dog’s compound” are clearly Palestinian and Arab communities and states that Israel has dispossessed, dominated and/or fought with during decades of conflict and territorial expansion, while simultaneously portraying itself as victimized by these communities. 

As a “Commissioner for Future Generations”, Shoham was deeply involved at many levels of Israeli politics. And yet the impact on future generations that has defined so much of his work does not extend to Palestinians. Apparently, they do not matter enough for him.

While Shoham speaks of the need for “legislation focusing on sustainability as a critical tool for helping implant futures and long-term thinking in Israel’s decision-making processes and governmental policy design”, (p. 109) there is no mention of systematic Israeli policies to undermine Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza. There is no mention of how the military and settlers routinely destroy EU-funded development projects (including water reservoirs), cutting down Palestinian olive trees, slaughtering of Palestinian livestock and locking out Palestinian farmers from gaining access to their remaining farm animals in walled-in cities such as Qalqilya.

The only nod that Shoham indirectly gives to the desperate situation of Palestinian children, (without naming them as Palestinians) is on page 114: 

“We recommended that the Israeli state carry out its part in breaking the cycle of poverty and addressing the lack of educational opportunities in Arab settlements. By this, we meant not only certain actions required to improve the situation, but also the establishment of a broad day-care infrastructure in Arab settlements.”

Shoham makes absolutely no effort to acknowledge well-documented, systematic abuses directed at Palestinian children, including hundreds of Palestinian children locked up in Israeli detention centers and interrogation facilities, which has increased during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Instead, Shoham’s attention to sustainable development is to reproduce Israel’s official Greenwashing message that it is an advanced society pursuing a progressive environmental agenda to “combat desertification”, as he tweeted in 2018.

Shoham reproduces a classic portrayal of an abusive regime claiming to be misunderstood and unfairly portrayed by the outside world, just like the government and institutions of South Africa argued in the 1980s when the apartheid regime there was brutalizing black South Africans.

Shoham’s Facebook page includes announcements of SGLA events in Israel over the past few years. There are also lessons from the Dalai Lama and various Greenwashing videos published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Beneath a veil of Buddhist “wisdom” and green technologies, Shoham entirely fails to address the Israeli context of deep inequality, discrimination and brutalization of Palestinians. This is remarkable from a sustainability standpoint. Such an approach hides the harsh reality of Palestinians, while appealing to a narrow Israeli elite.

When confronted with these glaring inconsistencies, the organizers of the Sustainable Global Leadership Academy responded that they offered an opportunity to organize a separate event these issues might be addressed. However, the organizers were adamant that this event was not suitable to address such matters.

The organizers even suggested that in criticizing the event one may cause harm to Palestinians, including discouraging youth that may otherwise want to become involved in sustainable change.

We can certainly agree that all actions have an impact, which is precisely why Palestinians have called for a boycott of Israeli institutions, and why we carefully explained to the organizers why we felt it was problematic to organize the event in this way. 

By refusing to acknowledge a Palestinian perspective and giving individuals such as Shlomo Shoham such a prominent platform and role in their event, the organizers of the Sustainable Global Leadership Academy have, sadly, become the latest that are complicit in Israel’s well-oiled efforts at Greenwashing the country’s abysmal human rights record.

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It’s now 72 years since the foreign based entity referred to as “Israel” was established in Palestine by force and the dispossession/expulsion of its indigenous inhabitants and it is still an insecure historical anachronism utterly dependent on the U.S. In short, 72 years of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.