I’m Sad About the Sierra Club Backtracking on Its Israel Greenwashing Trips

The Sierra Club is one of the most pre-eminent progressive environmental preservation organizations in the world, so when it made the decision last week to cancel its educational tours to Israel this spring, we hailed it as a principled decision that recognized the inextricable connection between environmental justice and human rights. It was made after a meeting with a coalition of Palestinian, Indigenous, Black, and Jewish organizations, including Eyewitness Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. There was a loud, grateful outcry from all across the intersectional justice and human rights community supportive of the Sierra Club’s decision.

But just a day after that meeting, the Sierra Club reversed its decision after pressure from the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and other pro-Israel groups.  Acting Sierra Club Executive Director Dan Chu, poured salt into the wound when he issued a tone-deaf statement with their decision to reinstate the trips: “Let me be clear: the Sierra Club’s mission is to enjoy, explore and protect the planet, and we do not take positions on foreign policy matters that are beyond that scope. We do not have a deep understanding or knowledge necessary to do so, nor is it our place to do so. Furthermore, we have and always will continue to loudly condemn anti-semitism and any and all acts of hate. We are committed to working more intentionally, thoroughly and thoughtfully so we can prevent this from happening again.”

His statement failed on many levels: it ignored the Sierra Club’s own proud history of intersectional political activism (even denouncing the racist history of its co-founder, John Muir), it didn’t even acknowledge the existence of Palestinians and their interests and needs, and it overlooked Israel’s egregious environmental degradation policies in Gaza and throughout the West Bank (here is just one of many articles documenting Israel’s destruction of Palestine’s environment).

This flies in the face of the Sierra Club’s own commitment to the marrying environmental justice and human rights. According to an August 2020 blog post from its website:  

The work to conserve nature—a staple in the mainstream environmental movement’s history and considered the Sierra Club’s legacy work—is ongoing and urgent, but it’s also evolving. It must continue to evolve to finally reflect the realities of our society and the consequences of our wrongdoings, and acknowledge the injustices communities are facing in a world in the midst of a climate, extinction, and human rights crisis. A movement once defined by preservation for the few must continue to transform and focus on saving nature to benefit and protect all.

As a part of its strategic propaganda machinery, Israel projects itself as an environmentally progressive country which covers over its settler colonial treatment of Palestinians, despoliation of Palestinian villages as well as in Gaza, its uprooting of thousands-year-old olive trees and demolition of homes and farmland, hiding the destruction of entire villages, and more.

This process is known as GREENWASHING.

Travel is never a-political.

In a letter to the Sierra Club accompanying the original request, one of the organizations, Visualizing Palestine, wrote, “Israel’s apartheid and colonization are not green; … Israel uses parks, nature reserves and forests to conceal the ruins of depopulated Palestinian villages, appropriate land and curtail Palestinian access and development. 182 Palestinian villages that were depopulated by Israel are concealed in Israeli parks and forests, preventing refugees from returning.”

The Sierra Club took a principled stand when it canceled their trips to Israel after learning how Israel greenwashes its occupation with its devastating impact on Palestinians and the Palestinian environment.  And I believe in its mission and their consciences which led them to make their original decision, and the very good work that they do locally, regionally, and nationally.  That’s why I’m sad and frustrated that it bowed to pressure and reinstituted its trips.

It’s up to us to continue to educate the Sierra Club, its members, as well as its local and national leaders about the ecological harm Israel is inflicting upon Palestinians and the environment.

Please ask the Sierra Club to cancel its greenwashing trips to Israel. 

MY NEXT BLOG:  Greenwashing reminds me of the many other ways Israel – and its friends – washes its dirty laundry.  We’ll take a look at Sportswashing, Veganwashing, Artwashing, Pinkwashing, and Faithwashing.

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