Progressive coalition condemns Sierra Club reinstatement of trips to apartheid Israel



March 16, 2022—As racial and social justice organizers and environmentalists working to ensure our planet is safe and healthy for all, we also seek to ensure that everyone is able to live on this earth with the human rights we are all entitled to.

Sierra Club did the right thing by canceling March trips to Israel after outreach from our coalition. The trips erased the Palestinian people and greenwashed Israel’s military occupation and apartheid, actively causing harm to Palestinians and the land they live on. In fact, the trips did not mention the existence of the Palestinian people, and one description referred to the Occupied West Bank as “Judea.” Unfortunately, Sierra Club reversed their decision to cancel these trips in a statement by Acting Executive Director Dan Chu on March 15.

Not only did Sierra Club recommit to taking nature trips to Israel, but astonishingly, the statement from Chu is written as though Indigenous Palestinians do not exist and fails to apologize for the anti-Palestinian racism of its past tours.

Chu’s statement names Israel five times. It does not mention Palestine once. It condemns antisemitism – when there is nothing antisemitic about withdrawing one’s complicity in Israeli apartheid. It does not mention anti-Palestinian or anti-Indigenous racism once.

This is all the more insulting because it comes 36 hours after Chu sat in a meeting with our coalition of Palestinians and Indigenous leaders from Turtle Island, Jewish and Black allies, amongst others, where Palestinians shared the pain of living under Israeli settler colonialism and clearly and respectfully asked for basic recognition. The double erasure – first from the trips, and then through the backtracking statement that disingenuously uses the ideas of justice and stakeholder engagement to ignore and deflect the demands of Palestinians, who as the Indigenous people of this land are the most important stakeholders – is truly astonishing.

This suggests the Sierra Club’s new outings will again “take a side” and will continue to actively cause harm to Palestinians.

Chu claims that the Sierra Club does not take a position on foreign policy affairs, but taking a trip to an apartheid state with no mention of the indigenous Palestinians of the land is taking a position to support injustice. It’s impossible to organize a trip to the land without centering the wants and needs of the Palestinian people because of the stark injustice – when Palestinians’ land and natural resources are being seized, when Palestinians aren’t free to participate because they are barred entry to their homeland, when Palestinians aren’t free, period.

The Sierra Club has a long legacy of using conservation to erase the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. They claim to be reckoning with that history, by introducing themselves to us with perfunctory land acknowledgements, but clearly they have not. Land is not separate from the people who build their livelihoods upon it, nor are Indigenous people separate from their land.

It is clear: Sierra Club should join with other environmental and racial justice groups in standing firmly against apartheid and work to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Sierra Club’s stated commitment to racial, economic, and environmental justice, and their attempts to repair past harm towards Black and Indigenous communities in the U.S. and around the world, has to be more than words on paper, and canceling these trips to Israel is an important step in that process.