Israel Cabinet member in wheelchair barred from attending climate talks in Germany

JERUSALEM — Israel’s environment minister, who was barred from attending global climate talks in Germany because her wheelchair-accessible bus was not allowed to enter the country, said Wednesday that she had accepted an apology from the British prime minister and the two governments had agreed to exchange experts to resolve the issue.

Sigal Rozen, the Israeli minister for water, ecology and environment, arrived in Berlin to attend a high-level ministerial session of the United Nations’ climate change talks, the first time a head of state has attended. But Rozen said she found that organizers said the Bus C, a specialized electric wheelchair operated by her ministry, was not part of the government’s delegation and therefore was not allowed to enter the airport under German law. The department that manages Germany’s transport infrastructure declined to allow the bus in.

Officials said Rozen told German officials that the German government, which is a non-permanent member of the UN panel of climate talks, should have done more to ensure that Israel’s disability services were deemed to meet international standards.

Rozen, speaking to Israel Army Radio Wednesday, said British Prime Minister David Cameron had apologized in a telephone call.

“We agreed on an exchange of experts, so that we may find a solution to our crisis,” Rozen said. “The agreement included a new formula so that when one country presents a delegation they are entitled to the same facilities as other delegations and we will be able to continue to grow and become more assured.

Rozen said she was awaiting a report on how it will be determined that Israel’s water, social and human needs meet the terms of the UN Climate Convention. “The report has to be ready in a short period of time to finish the rectification of the issues I am asking,” she said.

Rozen said the UK was not ready to solve the issue, but that in the future the two countries could work to avoid such problems.

The Israeli embassy to the EU in Berlin has demanded an explanation from the German authorities, while the environmental aid organization Rainforest Heroes and the disability rights group Help a Million have criticized Germany and accused it of discriminating against disabled people.

Rozen will arrive in London to continue her trip with her delegation and she will meet Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has also discussed the matter with Rozen, a government official said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement earlier Wednesday calling for an end to discrimination against people with disabilities and for countries to fully access people with disabilities, noting the German decision as an “isolated example” of discrimination against people with disabilities.

JTA, Bloomberg News

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