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Wheelchair-using minister to join Bennett-Johnson meet after COP26 entry farce

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, was unable to enter environmental summit in Glasgow because venue was not accessible

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chat as they attend an evening reception to mark the opening day of the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland,  on Monday, November 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chat as they attend an evening reception to mark the opening day of the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday, November 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)

GLASGOW, Scotland — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke late Monday with British Prime Minister Borris Johnson on the sidelines of the UN’s COP26 climate conference and the two agreed that Energy Minister Karine Elharrar would join their formal meeting Tuesday after she was barred from the confab because it was inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

The two leaders spoke at a reception on the opening day of the environmental summit in Glasgow, which was marred by the inability of the organizers to accommodate Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy.

“The two also spoke about the incident that occurred earlier in the day with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, and it was agreed she would join their meeting,” an official in Bennett’s delegation told Ynet.

At the reception, Bennett also spoke with US President Joe Biden and several other world leaders.

For two hours earlier 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.

Israel Energy Minister Karin Elharar arrives for a group portrait with incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Reuven Rivlin, and her fellow cabinet ministers in the new government, Monday, June 14, 2021 in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

“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.

Bennett 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.

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