Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Why I am not going to Global Birdfair this year

Global Birdfair 2023 - me with Tim Appleton and Dale Forbes

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that very rarely I stray away from bird stuff in my writing. In recent weeks many people have asked me whether I am taking part in Global Birdfair this year. At this point, I want to share my disappointment and frustration with attitudes I am receiving in recent months, that have led me to decide not to go to Global Birdfair this year.

I have been going to Global Birdfair for many years, representing BirdLife Israel. It really is THE place to be. Tim and Penny's friendship and support are so precious to me personally and to BirdLife Israel. It is always great to meet so many close friends, make new friends and hang out with amazing people from all around the world, to talk about birding and conservation. I am affiliated with BirdLife International, Swarovski Optik, eBird, Rockjumper Birding Tours, OSME, Dutch Birding - several good reasons to visit Global Birdfair. In normal years we go as a BirdLife Israel team, present our conservation work, and promote our international events including Champions of the Flyway. We also promote birding tourism into Israel, emphasizing the connection between birding tourism and conservation.

Since October 7th, our lives here in Israel have shattered. In the first weeks after the Hamas attack, waves of support and comradeship arrived from friends and colleagues around the world, helping us at BirdLife Israel and me personally to pick ourselves up after the horrible massacre. However, after the Israeli military operation began in Gaza, the positive vibes were muted. Instead, I started receiving vile, offensive messages from people and from organisations around the world. Surprisingly, even people that I regarded as personal friends turned their backs on me and on BirdLife Israel. Not only ignored, but actively accused me personally of committing genocide, killing children etc. This is nonsense of course, but I felt very troubled and confused by this approach. Maybe I was totally naïve. I believed that people in the birding and conservation community have some kind of basic understanding of how conservation NGOs work, and how much support conservation NGOs need especially in extreme situations like we are in now. No, some people are simply stupid, ignorant or brainwashed, unable to separate their own political or social agendas from their views about conservation and about basic human relationships and behaviour.

I want to clarify. I am not an Israeli spokesperson. I don't take responsibility for the actions of the Israeli government since October 7th (and before). I even openly criticize the Israeli government. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is horrible, inflicting unimaginable suffering on civilians in Israel and in Gaza. I hope the war ends yesterday. Those who know me are familiar with my deep belief in cross-border work with our neighbours, developing partnerships with Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians in pre-war days. Accusing me of genocide and murder, and openly calling for my death or deportation, just for being Israeli and Jewish, is unacceptable and very wrong. Moreover, people from the global birding and conservation communities openly calling to boycott BirdLife Israel, which has happened, demonstrates how rife are ignorance and hypocrisy in these communities. 

All of these events, combined with the huge increase in antisemitism and anti-Israeli cases in the UK, led me to decide not to take part in Global Birdfair this year. Obviously, it is pointless to promote birding tourism into Israel in the near future. Moreover, I was concerned that if I tried to give a presentation or hold an event, idiots would sabotage our efforts. The whole situation is so toxic at the moment. It is very sad for me not to take part this year. I know that during birdfair, seeing all the smiling faces and sensing the strong vibes of global solidarity (unless you're Israeli) FOMO will take over me. 

I have hope that this horrible war will end soon, the hostages will return home and our crazy region will regain some kind of fragile stability. I am sure that a few months later those holding racist and antisemitic opinions will not feel comfortable to share their dangerous views anymore. The Israeli civil society, and I include myself in it, is resilient. We struggle to keep our heads above the water, but we'll make it to the other side. The strength of the civil society in Israel gives me hope for the future. I promise that in Global Birdfair 2025 BirdLife Israel will return stronger than ever, proudly showcasing the good conservation work that we do, for nature and people, against all odds.

A nice bird for good measure.