(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Green Movement-Meimad kicked off its election campaign Sunday night at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds by stressing the party's appeal to all Israelis. Despite indications that the coming elections will be heavily colored by the recent Gaza conflict, the candidates promised to champion education, ecology, and society.
"Change starts here," No. 2 Eran Ben-Yemini declared, "But actually it began 10 to 15 years ago, when we established many of the biggest environmental organizations in Israel."
Ben-Yemini founded Green Course, while fellow party member Prof. Alon Tal founded The Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.
"When we started out, nobody even knew what 'the environment' was. Now we've turned it into one of the biggest items on the national agenda," Ben-Yemini told the crowd.
Meimad head and No. 1 on the combined list Rabbi Michael Melchior stressed the need to prevent security from dominating all other issues.
"We cannot let the older parties use the security issue, no matter how important it is, to once again bury education, environment and social issues.
"When all of the other Knesset members race towards seats on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the least important committee in the Knesset, we will be running towards the education, social affairs, finance and environment committees," he thundered.
"The operation in the South caused me a lot of distress," Ben-Yemini also said, "I wonder if the government is working to provide a diplomatic horizon."
Green Movement-Meimad Spokesman Nir Hirshman dismissed the idea of changing the party's platform and strategy to focus more on security issues.
"We have clear positions on security issues, but we can't let the old parties hide other issues under the umbrella of security.
"The identity of Green Movement-Meimad is to focus on the issues which decide what the face of the nation is like education, social issues and the environment," he told the The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The crowd on Sunday night was an eclectic one. From straight-laced knitted kippa wearers to young adults with shaved heads and earrings, to dreadlocked and mohawked young men and women. Many people adorned with party T-shirts brought their young children who ran around in the back of the hall while the candidates stirred up the crowd.
Both Melchior and Tal tried to bring together the somewhat divergent electorate of The Green Movement and Meimad.
While Melchior's environmental record in the Knesset is impressive, Meimad's original purpose was as a moderate center-left alternative to more right-wing religious parties. There seemed to be a sense among some long-time Meimad supporters the Post talked with after the event that the merger had not been completely seamless, and they were still somewhat unsure how it might change the nature of Meimad.
"A disposable state which throws away the packaging is also willing to throw away the elderly in their last yearsâ€¦ We found a party very similar to ours, which bases its [platform] on the same sources," Tal said.
The party will have an uphill battle acquiring the requisite number of votes to get into the Knesset. Many recent polls have shown either no green party getting in at all or just the Greens, a rival environmental party.
Moreover, if the elections are dominated by security issues, it is not clear how well the center-left party will fare.
One of the biggest challenges the party faces is differentiating itself from other green parties, such as the Greens, or other political parties, like Meretz, who claim an environmental track record.
"We will not engage in street battles as to who has covered themselves more in green," Hirshman replied to a query as to whether the party would engage in a negative campaign to differentiate itself from its rivals.
Instead, according to Hirshman, the party will present itself as a European-style green party, with a wide-ranging environmental agenda and an accomplishments track record second to none.
"These are the experts. They are all quality people. If you want education and environment - that's Melchior. If you want pollution - that's Alon Tal. If you want activism - that's Ben-Yemini. If you want planning - that's [No. 4 Iris] Hahn. Issues of sexual abuse - [No. 5 Yonina] Falnberg.
"The public must judge what a person did before and decide if they want to elect them to the Knesset," he added.
Melchior, whose prior experience as a political orator was clearly in evidence, gave a rousing finish to the rally.
"The politicians have lost the way. They have lost what was written in the Declaration of Independence. Something is not in the right place," he began.
Melchior concluded with a recurring refrain of what a true Jewish state should be.
"When a veteran politician goes into a classroom in the South and asks the pupils what should be done with the Arabs and they reply 'kill them!' that's scary. We have made a mistake somewhere along the line," he said.
"Two hundred thousand children at risk - that is not a Jewish state! A state which pollutes its air - that is not a Jewish state! A state which spends six times more on educating its Jewish citizens than its Arab ones - that is not a Jewish state! When there is such a huge gap between the haves and have-nots - that is not a Jewish state!" Melchior declared.