In a 3-hours-long private meeting with Minister Idit Silman and the ministry’s CEO, an Israeli called The Forum for Rational Environmentalism questioned the science proving that humans are causing the climate crisis and urged the ministry to focus on other problems, such as waste

Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman
Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Lee Yaron Feb 17, 2023

High-profile Israeli climate change deniers met with the environmental protection minister arguing it is pointless for Israel to take any action to fight climate change and questioned the science proving that humans are causing or exacerbating the climate crisis, according to sources familiar with the discussion that was held on Wednesday.

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman and the ministry’s director Guy Samet met with The Forum for Rational Environmentalism, whose members include climate change deniers, such as the University of Haifa’s Prof. Micha Klein and Prof. Yonatan Dubi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, sources told Haaretz.

Members of the group spent around three hours presenting to the minister and director their position and urged the minister to focus on “other environmental issues, such as waste,” according to sources familiar with the meeting. The group claimed that Israel’s environmental regulations are among the strictest in the world.

Cabinet decisions on handling the crisis and recognizing its severity were approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2018.

In his lectures, Klein claims there is doubt whether climate change is occurring because of human activity. In an interview with the right-wing Channel 20 following the release of a state comptroller report on Israel’s preparedness for the climate crisis, Klein said that climate change was normal.

Dubi has written articles, including one in Haaretz, in which he also voiced skepticism about humanity’s role in the climate crisis and the effects of carbon emissions on global warming, and the rise of extreme weather events. “The temperature rise of the past several years is certainly not an unusual event – it has already happened, and not long ago,” Dubi wrote.

“There are a number of theories that can explain the warming of the past century and a half – for example, in solar activity. My attempts to obtain convincing explanations, unambiguous evidence, or a smoking gun from a number of climate experts have failed, despite repeated requests.”

One of the organizers of the meeting, Idan Levy from the Green Logic and The Forum for Rational Environmentalism told Haaretz that after Silman was appointed as minister “We sent requests and asked our voice to be heard, and not just the one voice that is heard in mainstream media. We think that the recent governments were very bad for the environment in Israel, because the focus shifted towards climate and made the treatment worse.”

According to Levy, the meetings’ organizers want the ministry’s attention “to be directed to the real problems instead of referring to the climate crisis, which has no meaning for Israel and has no effect on the global trend.”

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report by the UN, signed by more than 270 scientists from 67 countries, stated there will be unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming, which include worldwide physical harm to human wellbeing as well as risk to mental health; Disappearance of life underwater and refugees crises.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said in response that “The Minister and the director meet with a wide variety of people from the Jewish, Arab and ultra-Orthodox public, while also listening to different opinions.” The statement added that the ministry “clearly backs renewable energy and reducing emissions” and is determined to advance the climate bill.

Why Is Israel’s Environment Minister Meeting With Climate Change Deniers? Haaretz

Idit Silman met at length with known climate change deniers, lending credence to long-standing delegitimization campaigns in the name of financial interests. Now is the time for Israeli climate scientists to make their voices heard

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman speaking at Haaretz’s climate change conference at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva last Monday.
Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman speaking at Haaretz’s climate change conference at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva last Monday. Credit: David Bachar

Nir Hasson Feb 19, 2023

Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 61:67 Thursday to win the Israeli Basketball State Cup. This is not a matter of opinion or interpretation, it is a fact.

If Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar were to meet at length with a group of experts who explained to him that while they specialize in tennis they have an alternative theory about which team won, and offered to take the trophy from Hapoel, it would have been seen as a very questionable move on Zohar’s part. And if, at the end of the long meeting, the minister would have issued a statement saying he was open to different opinions, it would sound completely insane.

Well, that’s what Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman did when she met with representatives of the Israeli Forum for Ration Environmentalism, whose members include veteran climate change deniers.

Science is not a sport, but science too has its rules. The argument over global warming was settled decades ago. In the scientific community there is no doubt that Earth is warming and that the warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, the main cause of which is the burning of gas, oil and coal. This is neither opinion nor interpretation, but fact. Not only is this the position of more than 99 percent of climate scientists, it is also the position that is accepted by world governments, important research institutions and international agencies. Even the oil companies, whose product is the heart of the problem, acknowledge this fully. In order to win in basketball, the winning team must score more points than its opponent. In the case of the climate crisis, the other side has zero points. There is no alternative hypothesis to explain climate change that is supported by serious scientists.

Therefore, Silman has no reason to listen to those who deny the scientific truth. No more than the transportation minister has a reason to listen to flat earthers or the health minister to COVID-19 skeptics. Similar to the argument of those who deny the curvature of Earth or the existence of the coronavirus, the climate deniers’ argument also implies an assumption that for some reason a huge number of scientists, governments and research institutions are involved in a worldwide conspiracy whose goal is … what, exactly? What do they get out of it? It’s not clear.

The roots of the theory of anthropogenic warming (that is, affected by human activity) are back in the 19th century. It became accepted by researchers in the mid-20th century, and became scientific consensus over 40 years ago. Since then, tens of thousands of studies and millions of measurements have been conducted, all of which confirmed and strengthened the theory. This is also where its great power lies: in a wealth of different types of evidence, models and observations that reinforce each other and lead to the same result. Even the climate models prepared by the oil company scientists themselves in the 1980s proved to be extremely accurate. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the scientific gold standard on the subject, and it brings together the most advanced knowledge from around the world. For its most recent report, no fewer than 14,000 studies were analyzed, all of which underwent peer review. The result was terrifying.

Climate-change denial has a long and dark history. Most of the denial comes from a well-funded campaign by the American gas and oil giants, who spent billions of dollars on the most expensive, but also the most profitable, PR operation in history. This campaign brought them decades of enormous profits, even though the danger posed to humanity from their product was clear, as internal documents of the petroleum industry itself show. To understand the extent of the profits, it is enough to look at the past year, in which five leading oil and gas companies combined earned the almost unimaginable sum of about $200 billion.

The most scandalous story concerns Exxon Mobil Corp., whose scientists were at the forefront of climate science in the early 1980s. They were able to accurately predict the dangers of continuing to burn fossil fuels. But the company’s leaders chose at that time to close the research division and invest the money in selling lies to the American public. The oil giants established pseudoscientific organizations. They opened research institutes, distributed scholarships, influenced the positions of politicians with the help of donations and spent huge sums on advertising and lobbying. The petroleum industry’s PR experts used all the methods of false equivalence between experts and charlatans, selective data collection (“cherry-picking”), disdain for experience and expertise, casting doubt and conspiracies. It is no coincidence that similar tactics previously served the tobacco companies, who sought to keep humanity addicted to their carcinogenic product. Chevron Corp., which operates in Israel, was actively involved in organizations that promoted misinformation about climate science.

An Exxon-Mobil ad challenging climate science, as published in the New York Times in 2000.

Thus, as the scientific knowledge about the severity of the climate crisis grew stronger, doubt spread among the general public and politicians. The mouthpieces of the deception campaign were skilled at adapting to a changing reality. At first these co-opted experts flatly denied global warming. When this became impossible they denied the connection between warming and human activity; and when this position also became untenable, they argued that in any event it was now too late to act. In recent years another method has gained hold, aimed at diverting the conversation toward expensive or unrealistic technological solutions, such as carbon capture or nuclear energy, in the meantime buying the companies a few more years for burning fossil fuels. The varieties of denial are so widespread that investigating the history of climate denial has become its own branch of research. A series of peer-reviewed studies deconstructing the mechanisms of this deception have been published in reputable journals.

Climate-change deniers sometimes protest the use of this term, arguing that it links them to Holocaust deniers. Instead of complaining about the terminology and diverting the discussion, they should address the issue itself. The World Health Organization estimates that the climate crisis will cause 250,000 additional deaths each year worldwide in the coming years, most of them due to malnutrition, excessive heat and disease, all of which are exacerbated by the crisis. If decision-makers such as Silman, choose charlatans over scientists, the aggregate of human suffering over years as a result of the climate crisis will be enormous.

The conduct of the environmental protection minister joins the irresponsible behavior of Israel’s new government, from the governmental coup to repealing taxes on sweetened beverages and disposable tableware to the focus on collective punishment against the Palestinians and the growing danger of Israel becoming a pariah state.

In recent weeks, these moves have stirred to action various sectors of Israeli society, including ones that had been silent, including people in banking and high-tech as well as lawyers and heads of the defense establishment. The reporting on Silman’s meeting with climate-change deniers is a signal to Israel’s serious climate scientists to make their voices heard. Now is not the time for silence.

‘I Will Meet With Whomever I Want,’ Israeli Environment Minister Idit Silman Says After Meeting Veteran Climate Deniers – Haaretz

The environmental protection minister responded to Haaretz’s report that she met with well-known climate denial lobbyists. In her own words, Silman rejected the term climate deniers, claiming it was misleading.

Zafrir Rinat Feb 22, 2023

On Wednesday, Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman addressed reports on Wednesday about her meeting with climate change deniers last week, saying “I will meet with anyone I want.”

Responding to Haaretz’s report that she met with representatives of the Israeli Forum for Rational Environmentalism, a veteran climate change denial lobby, Silman said “A radical newspaper like Haaretz will not dictate who I meet with.”

Silman rejected the description of climate deniers, saying “That the term deniers… fits other contexts.” She spoke Wednesday morning at the Dan Sanitation Association’s waste treatment conference.

Haaretz reported that last week Silman and the CEO of her office Guy Smet met with a well-known group of climate deniers, who presented the minister and her CEO with positions that discredit Israel’s climate initiatives, according to sources familiar with the details.

>> Why is Israel’s enviroment minister meeting with climate deniers?

They questioned the severity of the crisis as well as the scientific fact that human activity caused it. Following the publication, the minister said she met with many environmental organizations on her own initiative, and also responded to the forum’s request to meet.

Scientists agree that burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas – a process that releases greenhouse gases that warm the planet – is the major cause of the climate crisis. The climate crisis is considered the greatest threat by the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

A number of climate deniers who met the minister stated, among other things, that “climate change is a normal occurrence, so we need to analyze the impacts of the changes we know about based on Israeli research, and determine if we are indeed in danger.”

As another example, it was said that “the recent temperature increase is not unusual. The warming over the last century and a half has been explained by several theories.” Two of those deniers were interviewed in a TV report titled “Green Danger.”

As part of the event in Hiriya, Silman also spoke about the transfer of control of the Cleanliness Fund, an important funding source, to the Ministry of the Interior, a decision born out of coalition agreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas leader Arye Dery. But Silman said, “we won’t give up the cleanliness fund. It cannot be transferred to another ministry.”

The proposal to remove the fund from under the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s control is part of a larger government effort to gut the ministry, threatening the ministry’s ability to enforce, supervise, and determine environmental policy. As part of the push, the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s position on planning committees will be weakened, and its enforcement body, the Green Police, will be removed from its control.

Israel’s Environment Minister Cuts Short Speech as Audience Jeers Her Over Government’s Judiciary Overhaul – Haaretz

Idit Silman was speaking at a Haaretz climate change conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Negevail

Haaretz Feb 15, 2023

Israel’s environmental protection minister, Idit Silman, was booed off the stage at Monday’s Haaretz Israel Climate Change Conference over opposition by members of the audience to the government’s plan to weaken the country’s judicial system.

“You’re not the solution. You’re the problem,” one person in the crowd yelled. “Without democracy, we can’t fight climate change,” another said. Silman left the event without completing her speech.

The conference, which was organized in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and was held on the university’s Be’er Sheva campus, focused on the local, regional and multinational implications of climate change and efforts to tackle the global threat.

Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn opened the conference by highlighting how Israel’s ongoing political crisis is diverting attention from other urgent problems such as climate change. The war in Ukraine, he noted, has had a similar impact on an international level. “Even when we are focused on other problems, climate change continues and isn’t taking a break,” he warned.

The Israeli government’s proposed plan to overhaul the judiciary includes giving the government control over the selection of judges, curtailing the Supreme Court’s authority to strike down legislation and limiting its power to apply a reasonableness standard to government conduct.

Ben-Gurion University President Daniel Chamovitz told the conference that southern Israel’s Negev region, where the university is located, will face critical challenges as a result of climate change in the coming years and decades. He noted that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, spoke about the importance of sustainability for Israel as far back as the 1950s.

Hans Docter, the Dutch ambassador to Israel, told the conference that strong democratic institutions are vital in battling climate change. He recounted how Dutch courts have had an impact on his country’s climate change policies. The crowd applauded him for linking democracy and climate resiliency. Similar comments were made by former Knesset Dov Khenin, who is now the chairman of the Israeli Climate Forum. “The climate battle requires independent and impartial judges,” he said.

Prof. Yaron Ziv, the director of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Sustainability and Climate Change, said populist governments have a problematic track record on climate change. Politicians tend to look three or four years ahead to their next election, he claimed, while the climate crisis requires a strategy for decades into the future.

‘A local and global emergency’

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who sent a video address to the conference, highlighted the importance of regional cooperation on the climate front. Calling the climate crisis “a local and global emergency,” he cited the recent earthquake in Turkey as an example of how natural disasters can endanger an entire region. The climate crisis, he said, should be addressed on a regional basis.

The United Arab Emirates’ climate change and environment minister, Mariam Almheiri, delivered a similar message, saying that her country wishes to cooperate more closely with Israel on climate issues. Noting that the UAE will be hosting this year’s COP28 UN climate conference, she said the goal of the conference would be to revive the Paris Accords on climate change and make progress toward the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East, reminded the audience that Israel “is not an island” and would not be able to deal with the climate crisis without joining forces with its neighbors. Recent examples of successful regional cooperation, he said, include the Israeli-Jordanian-UAE agreement on trading water for solar energy and the Israeli-Palestinian effort to stop sewage from Gaza from polluting the Mediterranean.

Ben-Gurion University Prof. Iris Visoly-Fisher spoke about the potential for regional cooperation on solar energy projects, stating that the only way to create a stable energy market in the region is to work across borders. Israel has advanced technology, she noted, while neighbors such as Egypt and Jordan have abundant desert land.

Veronika Ertl of Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation said “the main issue is political will. When it exists, progress can be made.”