GLASGOW, Scotland — Energy Minister Karine Elharrar entered the United Nations COP26 climate conference alongside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday morning, a day after she was barred from the confab because it was inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.
After she got out of an accessible van, Bennett pointed at the blue ramp leading into the event. “Tomorrow, it will be exactly the same,” he promised. “Let’s go.”
“This is very important,” he said to her, gesturing toward the ramp.
Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, drove her wheelchair alongside Bennett into the venue as cameras flashed.
At the start of his three-way meeting with Bennett and Elharrar Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized to the energy minister for the incident.
He elbow-bumped Elharrar, said he was pleased to see her, and added: “I gather there was some confusion with the arrangements yesterday. I am very, very sorry about that.”
Late Monday, Bennett had spoken with Johnson on the sidelines of the conference and the two agreed that Elharrar would join their formal meeting on Tuesday.
Following that meeting, Bennett thanked Johnson for his “quick intervention” in the affair.
“I think it’s a learning opportunity for all of us on the importance of disability for all,” Bennett said.
“We’re so darn proud of Minister Elharrar,” Bennett told Johnson. “She’s just amazing.”
The fiasco of Elharrar’s exclusion was widely covered by British as well as Israeli press. Speaking on the BBC, the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “We deeply regret that incident.”
He added that there appeared to have been a miscommunication and organizers, unaware of Elharrar’s requirements, had not made the right arrangements at the particular entrance she was coming to.
“I know that at most of the other entrances, wheelchair access is there. It was because she came to an entrance where they didn’t have that provision,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program, adding that action should have been taken to resolve the issue.
For two hours on Monday, organizers refused to let Elharrar enter the large compound in the vehicle in which she arrived, Elharrar’s office said. They eventually offered a shuttle transport to the summit area, but the shuttle was not wheelchair accessible. The energy minister was forced to return to her hotel in Edinburgh after organizers refused to accommodate her.
“The only way they said I could come in was to walk on foot for almost a kilometer, or to board a shuttle that was not wheelchair accessible,” she told Channel 12 news.
“This is scandalous conduct and it shouldn’t have happened,” Elharrar told the Ynet news site. “I came with certain goals, and I couldn’t achieve them today.”
“The UN calls on everyone to adhere to the international treaty,” she said, presumable referring to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “So it is appropriate for there to be accessibility at its events.”
Upon learning of the incident, Bennett phoned Elharrar and told her it was “unacceptable” that she was left out of the COP26 climate summit, his office said in a statement. He said her vehicle would be part of his official convoy on Tuesday, thus ensuring her entry.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who heads Elharrar’s Yesh Atid party, also weighed in. “It is impossible to take care of the future, the climate, and sustainability if we don’t first take care of people, accessibility, and people with disabilities,” he said in a statement.
UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan tweeted that he was “disturbed” by Elharrar’s exclusion. “I apologize deeply and sincerely to the minister. We want a COP Summit that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone,” said Wigan, whose country is hosting the climate conference.
Tal Schneider and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.