Israeli woman blocked from UN climate summit because she has a disability

One of Israel’s only two female ministers accepted a letter of apology from British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday after she was prevented from attending the United Nations climate change summit on Monday because of a dispute over whether she could use her wheelchair to get in.

May invited Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s Minister of Disability Affairs, to visit 10 Downing Street to discuss the matter after her surprise ejection from COP26 in the Polish city of Katowice.

In a statement released by her office, Horowitz said she was impressed by the attention to detail from May, whom she called a “down-to-earth person who has expressed all of her love and respect for the State of Israel and its people.”

“It is absolutely clear to me that the manner in which you, the Prime Minister, behaved was good manners and responsible leadership,” she said. “It is also clear to me that with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world will have a better future, and that Israel has to adapt to this change as part of the international community.”

Horowitz said the letter was the first she had received in response to a report by the Foreign Office’s Global Britain program, which questioned whether the prime minister’s standing up in the international stage meant that Katowice was the appropriate venue for Israel. In her letter, May wrote that the committee made its decision with “full respect” for the EU’s “right to associate with many countries,” but she offered her “sincere apologies for the disappointment” and backed plans to bring the two leaders together.

“To the extent that you are disappointed that the two of you could not have attended the conference, and the other ways in which you are able to join our efforts on this, I understand that and I believe we can do so,” she wrote.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Horowitz said that she had spoken to her office on Sunday to find out if she could attend. She said the Israeli embassy told her that because Katowice was being held under the auspices of the Conference of the Parties, the UN forum hosting the event, Israeli nationals were not allowed entry without a specific permit.

She applied for a permit, and heard nothing more until she received an email at 9:40 a.m. Monday from a security officer in Katowice rejecting her.

“He sent my email back as part of the process so we would know he was serious,” she said. “And then I got a call at 9:45 a.m. the next day saying my permit had been turned down.”

Video posted by BuzzFeed News showed her politely exiting Katowice’s La Plata Lounge with British Ambassador to Poland Emma Bristow, while a man in a wheelchair walked out of the venue behind her.

Horowitz said she also called Tony Juniper, a spokesman for UK-based advocacy group 350.org, which had been pushing for an open debate on the future of the Paris Climate agreement, to discuss the matter. She said Juniper promised to investigate what had happened and his office said he would take up the issue with Cop26 organizers.

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