‘Air travel is today’s Holocaust’

Tilly Gifford tells us that her Jewish roots motivate her to defy the law in the cause of halting ecological catastrophe


Matilda Gifford (centre) with fellow Jewish Plane Stupid member Dan Glass (left) at last month’s G20 protests

Matilda Gifford (centre) with fellow Jewish Plane Stupid member Dan Glass (left) at last month’s G20 protests

Thanks to two detectives from Strathclyde Police Force, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Gifford has become the most famous environmental campaigner in Britain.

The 24-year-old member of Plane Stupid, the direct action group that fights airport expansion, hit the headlines last weekend when she disclosed that the Scottish police had tried to recruit her as an informant, using a combination of intimidation and financial inducement.

And now, in a further revelation, Gifford has explained to the JC that it is her Jewish roots that motivate her battle against the causes of climate change, which has, on occasion, meant breaking the law. She also declares that Jews have a special responsibility to take up the cause of environmentalism.

Gifford, who is a social worker and lives in Glasgow, secretly taped hours of discussions between herself and two Strathclyde officers during the course of a number of conversations.

They offered her cash to give information about Plane Stupid’s activities, suggesting that if she did not co-operate she might be left with a criminal record and given a tough time in jail.

But she refused to accept their offer, instead choosing to take her story to the press. She stresses that she received no payment for doing so.

The climate change campaigner was arrested last year after staging a protest on the roof of the Scottish Parliament, and is currently on bail following a demonstration at Aberdeen airport last month. She insists that aviation is the fastest growing cause of carbon emissions and says she is willing to take direct action against airport expansion. And she draws a shocking comparison between the environmental catastrophe it causes and the Holocaust. “Recent Jewish history has seen mass mechanisms do really destructive things,” she argues. “The way that concentration camps were accepted and tolerated is a really strong lesson. In the same way, the government not taking action on climate change is just as destructive.”

She adds that she believes that Jews, as members of a minority group, have a duty to lead by example. “As Jews, as outsiders but not exactly aliens, we have a unique standpoint from which to be critical and question the status quo,” she says. “That’s a tradition among Jews. We can show people how to make the world a better place and create a society which future generations can enjoy.”

Gifford admits she only recently started to take an interest in her heritage as she had no Jewish identity when growing up in a rural part of northern France with her Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. Her interest was sparked after meeting friend and fellow Plane Stupid member, Dan Glass, whose family Seder she attended last month in north London.

She says Glass was “instrumental” in preparing her “spy gear” before her conversations with the police and listened in via an elaborate computer system connected to a hidden phone she was carrying.

Glass, a postgraduate from Strathclyde University, is a seasoned activist who made news last year after Superglueing his hand to Gordon Brown’s sleeve at a Downing Street reception.

He too is currently on bail following the Aberdeen airport demonstration, and, like Gifford, insists his protests are informed by his Jewish roots.

“Tilly and myself talk about it a lot,” he says. “We have had a lot of conversations about what motivates us. It always comes back to two things: Jewish young people and climate change and the relationship between them. The Holocaust was the defining issue of our grandparents’ day, and climate change is the defining issue of our generation.”

    Last updated: 11:04am, April 30 2009