Unmasking the Falsehoods Behind the Smear Campaign Against Greta Thunberg

The article in the Boston Herald discusses the recent violence committe d against Israeli civilians by Hamas on October 7, and how Greta Thunberg has added to the pain and anguish with her comments on the situation.

Greta Thunberg, a well-known climate change activist, tweeted that the Israeli government should be held accountable for its actions against the Palestinians. She wrote, “we must continue to point out Israel’s violations of international law.”

This tweet has been seen as a direct attack on Israel, with the Boston Herald writer asserting that it is an “exceptionally cruel blow” to the Jewish people. The article argues that the international community should focus on the violence being committed by Hamas rather than making accusations against the Israeli government.

The Boston Herald article has sparked a debate about the role of Greta Thunberg in the Middle East conflict and the responsibility of the international community to take action to protect civilians in the region. It has also raised questions about the use of social media to spread messages of hate and intolerance.

Thunberg is a young Swede who is best known for spearheading a worldwide youth climate change movement at the age of 15. She went on strike every Friday to draw attention to the global climate crisis. Unless she has some secret life that none of us knows about, Thunberg’s comparison to the October 7 Hamas attackers strikes me as a tasteless attempt to trivialise war crimes.

But it wasn’t just the right-wing media that accused the now-20-year-old anti-Zionist activist of being anti-Semitic. A number of supposedly serious voices joined the chorus. In a press release, the Simon Wiesenthal centre (SWC) blasted Thunberg for allegedly transforming a climate conference in Amsterdam into a pro-Hamas rally. “Greta Thunberg has helped to spread cancerous and harmful anti-Jewish stereotypes on the streets of Amsterdam, where the Nazis deported and gassed Jewish citizens,” the SWC said, adding that Thunberg had legitimized “genocide at a time when anti-Semitic violent hate crimes are on the rise in Europe.”

Greta Thunberg was labelled an anti-Semite by Germany’s Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Antisemitism, who said she had made statements that are “undoubtedly anti-Semitic,” and the Israeli government made fun of her on Twitter and removed all references to her from school curricula in a frightening authoritarian move. Der Spiegel asked whether Thunberg was an antisemite or simply incredibly

The Israeli state eagerly pushes the narrative that criticism of the occupation of Gaza, or even the killing of over 15,000 Gazans since the October 7th terrorist attack by Hamas, is anti-Semitic. But this narrative is also wrong. Thunberg is not alone in opposing the Israeli government. Many Jewish intellectuals and activists, as well as Middle Eastern immigrants, have been among the most forceful voices in the US in calling for cease-fires and solidarity with Gazans. Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) calls the comparison between anti-zionism and anti-Semitism “unacceptable,” and says that by equating them, the Israeli government “allows itself to escape responsibility for its actions and policies that violate the rights of the Palestinians.”

Hypersensitive (or opportunistic) critics pounced on the plush toy octopus, which made a brief appearance in one of her posts. The octopus has a long history of being used as an anti-Semitic symbol: in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cartoons, and in some early-twentieth-century Nazi propaganda, it was used as a metaphor for Jewish power and plotting. But the association appears to have been unintentional: Thunberg said the toy had meaning for the modern autistic community. (She is autistic.) She later apologised for the misunderstanding and removed the cephalopode from her posts. But, to widespread outrage, she reposted the solidarity with Gaza message.

Other climate activists have also been critical of Thunberg’s attitude towards Gaza, especially in Israel and Germany, where criticism of Netanyahu’s killing of Palestinians has been seen as a crime. A group of 100 Israeli climate activists wrote a letter saying that Thunberg’s statements about solidarity with Palestinians were too one-sided, not well-thought-out, and too superficial. Some have even said that Thunberg has divided the climate movement by talking about Gaza. A Forbes writer said that his stance on Palestine “harms the whole climate change movement.”

But Thunberg’s point is right: the killing of civilians needs to stop, and the siege of Gaza needs to end. And, while it’s no secret that the climate movement is seen as a bit of a mess in some parts of the world, in most of the world, solidarity with people who are oppressed and starving is widespread. In the southern part of the world, where climate change is already causing the worst effects, Israel and America are getting slammed for how they treat the Palestinians. In the US and Europe, a lot of young people agree with Thunberg, and they’re not alone. Biden recently admitted that support for Israel’s ongoing massacre is getting weaker.

It’s hard to ignore the genocidal situation facing the Palestinians when it comes to climate change. Gazans are among the worst hit by the current climate crisis, in part because of the heavy water and electricity restrictions imposed by the Israeli government. Meanwhile, as my colleagues at TNR have reported, the occupation and war in the region are exacerbating the warming, with bombs destroying land and the army and settlers uprooting and burning olive trees. Gazans are now facing a serious environmental and humanitarian crisis. The Secretary-General of the ILO said it at the UN Climate talks in Dubai.

The best way to handle these kinds of attacks is to apologise when something goes wrong and keep repeating your message of unity and peace. This isn’t the first time Thunberg has been attacked by the right – her climate talk has been a trigger for right-wingers, including President-elect Donald Trump. But she’s giving them a class on how to handle it.