‘I gather there was some confusion with the arrangements…’
Johnson apologizes to wheelchair-using Elharrar as she joins Bennett at COP26
UK PM says he’s ‘very, very sorry’ to energy minister, who has muscular dystrophy, and was unable to enter environmental summit Monday because venue was not wheelchair-accessible. How could this happen? Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar we hope you will accept apologies.
By Lazar Berman Today, 2:00 pm
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) greets Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar prior to a meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the sidelines of the COP26 Climate Conference at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021.(Alberto Pezzali / POOL / AFP)
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.”
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. Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Newsletter email address By signing up, you agree to the terms
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.” Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) is introduced to Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (L) as he meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) on the sidelines of the COP26 Climate Conference at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021. (Alberto Pezzali / POOL / AFP)
Late Monday, Bennett spoke with Johnson on the sidelines of the conference and the two agreed that Elharrar would join their formal meeting on Tuesday,
The incident was covered by British as well as Israeli press. Speaking on the BBC, the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “We deeply regret that incident.” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, a day after she was unable to enter because of lack of handicapped accessiblity (courtesy)
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. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett enters the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, a day after she was unable to enter because of lack of handicapped accessiblity (courtesy)
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. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (center) and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (left) in Glasgow on November 2, 2021. (Oded Bino/Pool)
“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.