Gaza war splits Greta Thunberg's climate movement

Activists in Germany and Austria distance themselves from Fridays for Future's anti-Israel stance

German climate activist Luisa Neubauer, left, has struck a less pro-Palestinian tone than Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

The war in Gaza has divided the Fridays for Future climate movement, with some activists distancing themselves from figurehead Greta Thunberg’s pro-Palestinian stance.

The group’s global leadership has shared anti-Israel posts on social media that accuse the country of genocide, repression and settler colonialism.

Ms Thunberg highlights the Palestinian cause in her weekly “school strikes”, holding signs that read “justice for Palestine” and “stand with Gaza”, although she has clarified amid a backlash that she opposes Hamas’s “horrific attacks” on Israel.

Meanwhile, the German and Austrian branches of Fridays for Future went public to reject comments by the worldwide movement and speak out against anti-Semitism arising from the war.

Activists in Germany issued a statement saying “Israel’s right to exist is not negotiable” and expressing concern over both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

“Anti-Semitism is finding a place in Germany in school playgrounds and on the streets,” said Luisa Neubauer, a prominent climate activist often described as the “German Greta”, at a rally in solidarity with Jewish people.

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews urged the country’s Fridays for Future branch to go further by changing its name and severing ties with the global network.

A rise in anti-Semitism linked to the war is a particularly sensitive subject in Germany because of national feelings of guilt over the Holocaust. Fridays for Future Austria likewise said it felt a “great historical responsibility”.

“From the beginning, Fridays for Future has been a global, decentralised movement carried by thousands of people worldwide. That means no individual people or accounts can speak for the whole movement,” it said.

An official Israeli social media account hit back at Ms Thunberg’s pro-Palestinian activism, remarking that Hamas “doesn’t use sustainable materials for their rockets which have butchered innocent Israelis”.

Worldwide protests against Gaza war - in pictures

Fridays for Future in Sweden, where Ms Thunberg launched the movement as a 15-year-old in 2018, condemned what it called “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” and violence by both Israel and Hamas.

The Swedish branch said it also distanced itself from “all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia regardless of where and by whom it is expressed”.

The global Fridays for Future movement last week backed calls for a general strike in solidarity with Gaza. In a now-deleted Instagram post, it claimed people were “brainwashed” by western media into supporting Israel.

It also shared a staunchly anti-Israel post by a branch of activists from the global south, who described Israel as attempting to commit genocide and censored its name with an asterisk.

Fellow activist groups have also spoken out on the conflict, with Britain’s Just Stop Oil accusing Israel of “brutal and illegal collective punishment” while saying “any innocent life lost is a tragedy”. In the Netherlands, 19 activists from Extinction Rebellion were arrested after occupying the entrance to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and denouncing Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a war criminal.

Updated: October 28, 2023, 11:35 AM