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Sarid's record as an ecological public relations genius is not questioned. Whether or not he put policies in place that materially improved Israel's environment is a tougher question. Sometimes the Ministry's enhanced status alone was enough to produce positive results. Under the Sarid ad-ministration, the Ministry of Justice was less likely to dismiss pleas for prosecution of egregious polluters than it had been before.[87] Before his tenure, environmental workers were never sure whether there would be political support for them if they stuck their necks out or tackled a power-ful vested interest. Sarid justifiably prides himself in infusing some fight-ing spirit into the Ministry staff. When staffers would come to the Minister with explanations for a polluter's poor performance, he would be-rate them saying, “What's with this empathy? He can do a lot more! The fact is he managed to worry about electricity and hook up the water. Why shouldn't he worry about the environment too?”[88]

Emboldened by the Minister's support and the Ministry's status, envi-ronmentalists became more aggressive. In areas where the Ministry en-joyed regulatory experience, such as industrial air pollution, Sarid took implementation up another level. He issued personal decrees to all the op-erating quarries in the north of the country.[89] When the Haifa Oil Refineries violated the personal decree, Sarid signed an order that would close them within two weeks. The Refineries stopped fooling around and switched to 1 percent sulfur fuel year-round.[90]

On some policy issues, Sarid quite simply was Greener than his prede-cessors had been. He unabashedly admitted to adopting the perspective of nongovernmental environmental groups and praised them as his teachers. It was more than just fatuous flattery. Sarid's handling of the methyl bro-mide controversy is just one of many changes in Ministry policy arising from his instinct to “do the right thing” environmentally.

Methyl bromide is probably the most effective soil fumigant yet to be invented. After it is injected into the soil, practically nothing moves. The

chemical quickly became an essential control for pests in crops such as strawberries or Galia melons. It is also incredibly lethal. Israeli farm work-ers have died when they failed to follow prescribed precautions and were directly exposed to the chemical.[91]

International attention began to focus on the pesticide in the 1980s, when scientists recognized its role in destroying the stratospheric ozone layer. The chemical percolates up through the soil and wafts toward the stratosphere, where it readily bonds with the reactive ozone (O3) mole-cules. Although only about 25 percent of the methyl bromide in the strat-osphere is produced by man (the oceans are the largest generator), it does not take much to upset the natural balance. Methyl bromide, it turns out, is thirty to sixty times more effective at destroying stratospheric ozone than more notorious halocarbon compounds such as Freon-based aerosols. The United Nations brought together a forum in 1992 that included dozens of the world's most influential atmospheric scientists, who reached a consensus. Anthropogenic emissions of methyl bromide used for fumi-gation applications could have accounted for one-twentieth to one-tenth of the current observed global ozone loss of 4 to 6 percent and could grow to about one-sixth of the predicted ozone loss by the year 2000 if methyl bro-mide emissions continued to increase.[92] Suddenly, stratospheric ozone de-pletion became a domestic Israeli issue. The Dead Sea holds the world's richest reserves of bromine,[93] making Israel the world's second-largest producer of the chemical.

Rarely are environmental issues front-page stories in Israel. When Greenpeace did a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggesting that Israel was responsible for 3 percent of the planet's ozone hole, however, it made the front page of Maariv.[94] The Dead Sea Bromide Corporation was not only the producer of a third of the world's methyl bromide. Its company representatives had served as Israel's official delegates at international conferences on ozone protection conducted under the Montreal Protocols of the Vienna Convention.[95]

The treaty led to the international phaseout of CFCs (chlorofluorocar-bons, such as Freons) and was considered one of the outstanding triumphs of international environmental cooperation. Now the parties were focus-ing on methyl bromide as the ozone layer's second most potent enemy. As a developed nation, Israel's ratification responsibilities under the treaty in-volved payment to a multilateral fund to assist Article 5 Parties (develop-ing countries) with projects that phase out ozone-depleting substances. Although Israel wanted to join the ozone-protecting nations, the Ministry of the Environment could not come up with the four-hundred-thousand-dollar

annual contribution. Uri Marinov demanded that the Ministry of Finance allocate the funds, but as always its clerks were tightfisted. The Dead Sea Bromide Corporation recognized the pivotal impact of the treaty on its product's future and offered to help pick up the tab in exchange for a place on the delegation as advisors.[96]

The deal was cut in June 1992,[97] and industry scientists hastened to at-tend the next meetings of the parties to the treaty in Copenhagen in November. Dr. Michael Graber, a conscientious meteorologist who had overseen air quality since the early days of the Environmental Protection Service, requested to attend the meeting, but Ora Namir, then serving as Minister, thought it was a waste of time.[98] The stage was set for a public-relations and environmental fiasco.

Once they got there, the Dead Sea team began to rally developing coun-tries to stop the proposed phaseout of methyl bromide, challenging the un-derlying science.[99] They branded the move as a “Western conspiracy.” Attending U.S. government representatives were stunned at what they saw as a crass disinformation campaign by the Israeli delegation.[100] At the end of the convention, delegates decided only to freeze production of methyl bromide at existing levels and to revisit the issue in 1995 at Vienna.[101] The affair put Israel in the role of an environmental villain who put short-term profits ahead of global survival.

Israeli environmentalists backed Greenpeace's demand for a change in Israel's position. For years the government had been long on rhetoric about its commitment to international environmental protection.[102] Now that economic sacrifice was required, it was short on action. The agricul-tural lobby, however, was unrepentant. Annual bromine production was worth an estimated sixty million dollars, and many Israeli farms were completely dependent on the chemical.[103]

Sarid took a different tack. He wrote Greenpeace that he was deeply concerned with the depletion of the ozone layer and invited it to send its ozone experts to come talk to him.[104] He pledged that he would never again allow industry to represent Israel's national interests. Sarid appointed a committee to study the issue, headed by pesticide expert Professor Yaakov Katan. When the next meeting of treaty nations was held in Vienna, the Ministry's new Director, Aaron Vardi, headed the Israeli delegation. Based on Katan's recommendations, Vardi backed the U.S. position, which called for phaseout.[105] Despite angry protests by farmers, Sarid stood his ground, and the government backed him.[106] The ultimate compromise called for a 70 percent interim reduction by 2003 and phaseout by 2005. (This did not stop Dead Sea Bromide from

circumventing the agreement by creating joint ventures with developing countries, China for instance, that were not parties to the agreement.[107])

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