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Why Is the U.S. Funding Climate Apartheid?

On Chuck Schumer’s troubling embrace of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s Narendra Modi

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

On a congressional delegation last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was photographed grinning, arm in arm with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Schumer pledged that the United States “will stand behind Israel with our fullest support.” Visiting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the same trip, Schumer redoubled his commitment to fostering strong ties there too, calling India “precisely the kind of partner that the U.S. needs” to take on China and promote democracy. Unfortunately, what those two leaders share, beyond the kind words they’ve received from Schumer, is a fondness for ethnic cleansing.

Schumer, whose office didn’t respond to a request for comment, isn’t alone in expressing support for far-right governments in Israel and India, of course. But it’s hard to square his praise with another priority he’s emphasized in recent years: tackling the climate crisis. You can’t really be a climate champion and a defender of democracy while backing authoritarians in the places already worst hit by global warming. And the consensus on Capitol Hill to turn a blind eye to violence sanctioned by U.S. allies is a dangerous sign for how it will navigate a warming world.

Israel is in the midst of both a constitutional crisis and an upswing of genocidal violence against Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in strikes and street demonstrations against Netanyahu’s far-right governing coalition and its proposed “judicial revolution” to strip the country’s courts of their independence. Days before Schumer’s visit, Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, killed 11 Palestinians and injured 500 during a raid in Nablus. On Sunday night, hundreds of settlers raided the occupied West Bank town of Huwara in retaliation for a Palestinian shooting two settlers earlier that day. They set fire to eight homes and 250 vehicles, according to the town council. Thirty-seven-year-old Sameh Aqtash was killed in the skirmish and at least 120 Palestinians sustained injuries. The Israeli magazine +972 reports that the IDF allowed settlers to enter Huwara after the border had been closed, all the while continuing to keep out journalists, medics, and Palestinian aid workers. Since the start of the year, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 61 Palestinians. 

This all comes amid a renewed push by the government to formally annex the West Bank, a part of Palestine that has been under “temporary” military occupation by Israel since 1967. Last week, Netanyahu’s Cabinet agreed to transfer control over the territory to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right settler who will now have broad control over life there as the head of its Civil Administration. Such actions have sparked rare condemnation from the State Department, but little questioning of the roughly $3 billion in military aid the U.S. provides to Israel each year. 

Netanyahu’s repressive policies exacerbate what is already a growing environmental crisis. Average temperatures in the Middle East have already risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution, well above the 1.1 degree global average. The brutal summertime heat stress already experienced in Israel and Palestine is expected to last through the night over the coming decades as temperatures continue to rise; summers are expected to become two months longer by 2100. Starting in 2041, precipitation could drop by 40 percent in non-arid parts of the region. Access to water, food, and energy in the occupied territories, meanwhile, is tightly controlled by Israel; 90 percent of water in the Coastal Aquifer that serves Gaza is unfit for human consumption.  

Zena Agha, the U.S. policy fellow with Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, told +972’s Edo Konrad in 2019 that Israel’s occupation “creates a situation in which it is impossible for Palestinians to actually develop these adaptive capabilities to withstand the very imminent threat of climate change,” calling it “climate apartheid.”

Then there’s India, where extreme rainfall events have increased threefold over the last 70 years. Last week, Modi’s government ordered raids on the BBC’s offices in the country over a documentary highlighting his role instigating and enabling a 2002 pogrom against Muslims that claimed some 1,000 lives in the state of Gujarat, where he served as chief minister. His government has presided over an uptick in vigilante and state-sanctioned persecution of Muslims, including a law that excludes Muslim Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Afghani migrants from citizenship. After the country’s north was battered last year by flooding that killed nearly 200 people and displaced millions, Hindu nationalists aligned with Modi’s party blamed a “flood jihad” for the damages. 

In many ways, Modi and Netanyahu are already governing a kind of climate apartheid, restricting access to everything from basic necessities to citizenship. With rare exceptions, most members of the U.S. Congress seem committed to letting them do so—and averse to such basic steps as a statement of condemnation or putting strings on military aid. It’s troubling to see this pattern holding for self-professed climate hawks who, like Schumer, have championed the Inflation Reduction Act’s investments in clean energy. At least for now, they seem to think there’s no contradiction in funding climate solutions with one hand and climate apartheid with the other.