Preferred Citation: Tal, Alon. Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c2002 2002.

Environmental Activism Hits Its Stride


Throughout the Knesset's history there have been legislators who cared about environmental issues. The honor roll began with Shimon Kanovich, Yizhar Smilansky, and Josef Tamir and includes Yedidyah Be'eri, Yael

Dayan, Uzi Landau, Boaz Moav, Yehudith Naot, Mossi Raz, Benny Temkin, Rachel Zabari, Dedi Zucker, and most recently an environmental economist from the Russian Yisrael b'Aliyah party, Michael Nudleman. Well aware of the impact of the Green Party in Germany and other coun-tries, environmentalists have for twenty years wondered whether the time was ripe in Israel for a comparable effort. The answer invariably was “No.”

The reasons were more practical than ideological. A Green Party could not muster the 1.5 percent threshold of the popular vote required to capture a seat in the Knesset. Other issues, in particular the question of security and territorial concession (and, more recently, ethnic patronage), dominated the Israeli voter's consciousness. Yedidyah Be'eri toyed with the idea of trying to return to the Knesset as part of a Green Party but ultimately rejected it. Israeli voters cared about the environment but not enough to cast their vote for a political party that made it the only issue.

Furthermore, despite the conventional wisdom that ecology is apoliti-cal, it turns out that not all Israeli voters feel the same about the environ-ment. Political scientist Avner De-Shalit found a remarkable correlation between Israelis' political opinions regarding the peace process and their sensitivity to environmental issues. Voters for leftist “pro-peace” parties showed the highest interest in environmental issues; levels of commit-ment dropped with voters on the right side of the political spectrum. De-Shalit also found that 68 percent of all activists and workers at the Society for the Protection of Nature voted for the Meretz or Labor Parties, which are identified as the “pro-peace” camp. Some 90 percent of the survey re-spondents who expressed biocentric views were leftist Meretz voters.[120] This led him to the conclusion that Israel already had a Green party: Meretz.

Beyond electability, the idea of a Green party gets sticky when one con-siders the range of issues that divide Israeli society at present. Anybody who even considered establishing a Green party naturally had tried to en-list the help of SPNI founder and media personality Azariah Alon. But he always demured: “I always ask: ‘What's a party?’ Josef Tamir and I can agree about the environment, but what about civil marriages or the West Bank? How could we be on the same side? In Israel, one or two people can actually decide who is running the government, and you'd have no idea of whom you were working with.”[121]

This pessimism changed overnight in the municipal elections of 1998. Shmuel Gilbert, a Haifa architect, headed an unaffiliated list, “Our Haifa,” for the city government. The campaign focused on the develop-ment excesses of Mayor Amram Mitzna but was going nowhere until

Gilbert decided to add the subtitle “the Greens” to the party name. He was delighted when he was rewarded with five seats in the local city council.[122] Pe'er Weisner registered a national “Green Party,” which then took two seats in the Tel Aviv city council elections. Other Green-affiliated parties won seats in Yehud, Mivaseret Zion, and Ashdod.[123] Once in the city councils, the new cadre of Green politicians became a lightning rod for en-vironmental concerns, with varying degrees of radicalism. The Tel Aviv Greens offered a take-no-prisoners antiestablishment approach that at-tacked Tel Aviv's air pollution problem and the proliferation of cellular phone antennas. Haifa's thoughtful and charming Gilbert preferred a pro-fessional and uncompromising focus on sustainable urban planning.

The political success in the local elections did not escape the attention of Nehama Ronen, the ambitious Director General of the Ministry of the Environment. In January 1999 she resigned her post to form the Voice of the Environment Party and run for Knesset. The press confer-ence announcing the move was broadcast nationally, and Ronen's candi-dacy enjoyed considerable media coverage.[124] Recognizing her electoral potential, Israel's Center Party offered her seventh place on their candi-date slate (a “guaranteed” Knesset spot), and she brought her platform and ecological concerns to what was then Israel's third-largest political party.

The Tel Aviv Greens, who had attacked Ronen unceasingly during the campaign, continued with their own national efforts. The party ultimately attracted MK Dedi Zucker to sit at its helm, after he was shunned in the Meretz Party primaries, as well as Tel Aviv night club and trance music im-presario Hagay Ayad.[125] Ultimately Israel's Green Party ran an unfocused and poorly funded campaign, receiving a pitiful thirteen thousand votes. When the Center Party chairman, Yitzhak Mordechai, resigned in disgrace after a conviction for sexual harassment, Ronen took her seat in Israel's parliament and soon formed a lobby of 22 Knesset members with a pro-fessed environmental commitment. These were only pilot ventures, but they left little doubt that Green politics in Israel had entered a new era.

Environmental Activism Hits Its Stride

Preferred Citation: Tal, Alon. Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c2002 2002.