‘We expect the government to rise to the challenge of environmental issues’

Some of Israel's biggest environmental champions lost their seats in the Knesset in Tuesday's elections, while other new, green editions made it through.

March 18, 2015 20:45
4 minute read.
Solar panels

Ronen Plott next to solar panels on Knesset building. (photo credit: COURTESY KNESSET)

While several Knesset candidates renowned for their green activism failed to make the cut following Tuesday’s elections, Israel’s environmental experts expressed hope on Wednesday that other new MKs might guide the government toward more sustainable practices.

“We lost some greens; we gained some greens,” Naor Yerushalmi, the executive director of Life and Environment – the umbrella group for all of Israel’s environmental organizations – told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “The environmental challenges are still here and I’m very hopeful that the new government will understand that the Israeli economy can gain from environmental practices and will adopt a sustainability policy, in order to strengthen our economy and lower the cost of living.”

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Although several members of the 19th Knesset identified as “green” and a few will likely do so in the 20th, Yerushalmi emphasized the importance of working with all politicians to “try to convince all of them to move toward sustainability practices.”

However, perhaps the biggest frustration of Israel’s environmentalists on Wednesday morning was the news that the Zionist Union likely acquired only 24 seats – meaning that Green Movement chairwoman Yael Cohen Paran would be one seat shy of entering the Knesset, barring any changes in the final vote count.

“The greatest disappointment of the environmentalists is that we went to bed with Yael Cohen Paran and we woke up without her,” Prof. Alon Tal, an expert in environmental policy at Ben-Gurion University, environmental historian and former Green Movement chairman, told the Post.

“The optimists among us point out that, in the history of the Knesset, large factions rarely stay intact throughout the Knesset term,” Tal said. “A 24-person faction will not remain the same 24 people.”

Although as the 25th candidate on the Zionist Union list, Cohen Paran would be next in line should someone resign, Tal stressed that environmentalists, of course, would “rather have her at the outset and rather have her in a coalition that is in control.”

Other “green” Knesset members and candidates who did not place high enough in the elections include MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), who was a champion for animal rights in the 19th Knesset and Mossi Raz, who served as a Knesset member for Meretz from 2000 to 2003, and is the chairman of Life and Environment.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), meanwhile, chose not to run in this election.

The fate of MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), meanwhile, remained up in the air as of Wednesday evening. While Zandberg holds the fifth seat in a list that likely acquired only four, Meretz Party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On announced Wednesday morning that she would resign in order to allow Zandberg to serve. However, Zandberg herself requested that Gal-On reconsider her resignation.

In addition to Zandberg, assuming she does in fact remain in the Knesset, and potentially Cohen Paran, Yerushalmi cited three other incoming MKs who have a proven track record on either environmental issues: Dov Henin (Joint Arab List), Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), and a new addition, Rachel Azaria (Kulanu).

“We definitely don’t rely on just one political side,” Yerushalmi said, noting that these MKs hail from both the left and right.

Azaria, whom Tal called the “new hope” of the environmentalists, is a board member of the student environmental movement Green Course and was heavily involved in green issues as a Jerusalem councilwoman.

As far as animal rights are concerned, Yerushalmi expressed confidence that Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) would be a strong advocate for this subject.

During his first term in the 16th Knesset, Hasson established the Lobby for the Protection of Animals. Yerushalmi described Hasson as “a champion for animal rights,” noting that he was also involved in legislation on hunting.

Referring to two former environmental protection ministers, Yerushalmi also expressed hope that Amir Peretz and particularly Gilad Erdan, who is second on the Likud list, would keep sustainability high on the government’s agenda. Although Erdan had created a plan for green growth during his term as environment minister, the plans in the end were blocked by the government.

“We hope that Erdan will continue to higher positions but will take with him this commitment and deal with the major sustainability strategy of the government,” Yerushalmi said, noting that such an attitude could be relevant to a high position such as finance minister. “Environment is a financial issue, first and foremost.”

While Tal criticized Erdan for failing to halt many building plans that threaten open spaces during his term as interior minister, he praised him for his accomplishments as environment minister.

“The fact that he is in a high place in the Likud gives me hope,” Tal said.

Veering away from the discussion of specific Knesset members, both Tal and Yerusahlmi stressed that there are many environmental concerns they expect any government to tackle.

“The issues are still there, and we expect the government – any government – to rise to the challenge of environmental issues – first and foremost on climate policy and energy efficiency,” he said.

Establishing a climate policy is critical prior to this fall’s UN Paris Climate Convention, and environmental achievements internally can only be beneficial to the market and lower the cost of living, Yerushalmi explained.

Another program that must be revived is the greenhouse gas emissions reduction program, which was slashed from the budget in 2013, Tal added.

“I don’t see things only in black and white,” Yerushalmi said. “Today I want to emphasize that environmental issues are not just for the hardcore green activists. Our audience is much larger.”

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