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Thunberg gets backlash for pro-Palestinian post

October 21, 2023

The Swedish climate activist was criticized for posts made in solidarity with people in Gaza on Friday. It isn't the first time Thunberg has made statements about the conflict between Israel and Hamas on social media.

Greta Thunberg sitting and looking into the camera
Thunberg has been criticized for posting on social media in solidarity with PalestiniansImage: Arnd WiegmannREUTERS

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has faced strong backlash for a social media post made Friday in support of people in Gaza.

Thunberg posted a photo of herself and three others holding signs stating: "Free Palestine," "Climate Justice Now," "This Jew stands with Palestine" and "Stand with Gaza". In the caption, she called for "solidarity with Palestine and Gaza" and an immediate cease-fire to the Israel-Hamas conflict. The picture was posted on Instagram and X (formerly known as Twitter).

Thunberg was criticized for what detractors called her lack of solidarity with Israel or acknowledgment of the October 7 attacks by Hamas, which killed about 1,400 people. Hamas has been designated a terror organization by the EU, US, Israel and other governments.

The climate activist was sharply condemned for something in the photo, as well: a blue stuffed animal octopus, which sat in the corner near her shoulder.

Some X users said the plush toy resembled a "Kraken," an antisemitic hate symbol meant to depict Jews as an octopus with arms encircling the world. Anti-Jewish cartoons frequently depicted the symbol in Nazi Germany, and it is still a common trope used by hate groups.

Thunberg deleted the post, uploading a cropped version that no longer included the octopus.

The caption of the updated version read: "It has come to my knowledge that the stuffed animal shown in my earlier post can be interpreted by some as a symbol for antisemitism, which I was completely unaware of," she wrote.

The climate activist, who has been open for years about being autistic, continued: "The toy in the picture is a tool often used by autistic people as a way to communicate feelings. We are of course against every type of discrimination, and condemn antisemitism in all forms and shapes. This is non-negotiable. That is why I deleted the last post."

Israel's official Twitter account was unsparing in its response to Thunberg's updated tweet: "@GretaThunberg, Hamas doesn't use sustainable materials for their rockets which have BUTCHERED innocent Israelis. The victims of the Hamas massacre could have been your friends. Speak up."

Thunberg, who was detained at a climate protest in London earlier this week, did not respond to Israel's message.

Three police officers wearing reflective yellow jackets push a teenage girl down the street
Thunberg was taken into custody at a climate protest earlier this weekImage: Kin Cheung/AP/picture alliance

Palestine Speaks repost

The climate activist also reposted an Instagram post from the Berlin-based organization Palestine Speaks calling for a general strike "against the genozide (sic) in Gaza" on Friday, referring to the Israeli military response, which Palestinian officials say has killed nearly 4,400 people and displaced tens of thousands. The post asked workers and business owners to take off or close Friday in solidarity "with Palestinians in Palestine and around the world."

On Friday, Israeli military spokesperson Arye Sharuz Shalicar told Politico that "whoever identifies with Greta in any way in the future, in my view, is a terror supporter," adding that Thunberg is "sweeping the terror of the Palestinians or Hamas and Islamic Jihad under the table as if it did not exist."

He later apologized for his comments, telling the website in a follow-up statement: "I spoke out of a deep sense of pain and my words do not reflect my personal views or those of the IDF." 

Thunberg's online activism

This isn't the first time Thunberg has made statements about the conflict between Israel and Hamas on social media.

In 2021, following reported Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, Thunberg tweeted: "Devastating to follow the developments in Jerusalem and Gaza. #SaveSheikhJarrah" in response to a post made by the Canadian author Naomi Klein calling the Israeli strikes "war crimes."

Thunberg was criticized then for not condemning Hamas' previous reported attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip. 

She later posted: "To be crystal clear: I am not 'against' Israel or Palestine. Needless to say, I’m against any form of violence or oppression from anyone or any part. And again — it is devastating to follow the developments in Israel and Palestine."

Thunberg is known for getting into public spats over her political views, often with high-ranking politicians, on X. 

Edited by: M. Gagnon

Clare Roth
Clare Roth Editor and reporter focusing on science and migration