Israeli Minister unable to enter COP26 sparks conversation around accessibility

As COP26 unfolds, the climate is not the only thing making headlines. Israeli Minister, Karine Elharrar, was unable to enter the site of the conference due to accessibility issues. Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy uses a wheelchair to get around, but upon trying to enter COP26 she found it required her to either walk or take a shuttle unsuitable for a wheelchair. 

Since the incident, Ms Elharrar’s office has told the Times of Israel she had to wait outside the venue in Glasgow for two hours before eventually having no other choice but to return to her hotel 50 miles away.

UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, apologised to the minister for the ‘confusion’ during a meeting with him and Naftali Bennett, Israel’s PM. It is understood by the BBC that the organisers of COP26 believed the main venue was fully wheelchair accessible, whilst they also said the temporary structures built around it passed all accessibility checks.

George Eustice, the UK’s Environment Secretary, appeared to blame Ms Elharrar and the Israeli delegation for the fact she was unable to get into the venue, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What would normally happen in this situation is that Israel would have communicated that they had that particular need for their minister”.

However, a spokesman from the Israeli Embassy in London responded saying the delegation had “communicated over the past several weeks all the details about the minister’s requirements”.

Lib Dem peer, Lady Ludford, also criticised Eustice for his remarks, tweeting: “Not the most gracious of responses for the COP26 host to blame the guest”.

Mr Bennett has declared the situation a “learning opportunity for all of us in the importance of accessibility for all”, as well as thanking Johnson for his “quick intervention on this unfortunate incident”.

A formal complaint has been made on behalf of Elharrar.

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Rachel Keane

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January 2022
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