Envoy apologizes, says UK strives to put on inclusive summit

Wheelchair-using Israeli minister excluded from Glasgow summit for entire day

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, slams ‘scandalous conduct’ by COP26 organizers after being left outside; Bennett says she’ll join his convoy on Tuesday

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Knesset member Karine Elharrar speaks during a culture event in Kfar Yona on March 9, 2019. (Flash90)
Knesset member Karine Elharrar speaks during a culture event in Kfar Yona on March 9, 2019. (Flash90)

GLASGOW, Scotland — Energy Minister Karine Elharrar traveled to Glasgow for the UN’s COP26 climate conference on Monday, but was not able to enter the venue at all because it is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

For two hours, organizers refused to let her 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, who has muscular dystrophy, 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 which 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, Prime Minister Naftali 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.

The premier decided that Elharrar’s vehicle will arrive at the summit area on Tuesday as part of his official convoy, 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.

In an effort to alleviate tensions, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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