A black day for the American Green Party

Has it placed the environment on the back burner in order to obsess about Israel?

One would expect the United States Green Party to be at the forefront of addressing environmental degradation in America and abroad. But rather than focusing on this important work, the Green Party has made a clumsy and harmful foray into Middle Eastern politics. Last week the party called for divestment from and a boycott of Israel. By doing so, the Greens relegated themselves to being another marginal group for disseminating hatred of Israel. For most of my professional career, I have researched environmental issues in Israel. While concerns about water scarcity and loss of open spaces loom large among the country's problems, I've become convinced that many of its environmental problems are rooted in sociopolitical problems. Some are based on inequitable distribution of land resources favoring Jews over Arabs. Others result from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and between Israel and several Arab/Muslim states which deflect resources from pressing social needs - the environment and education, for instance - in favor of military expenditures. Either way, the environment is the victim of the political-ethnic conflict. I have pressed repeatedly in the Israeli and Jewish press and in public lectures that in order to resolve environmental problems we must address discriminatory policies in Israel, and political problems n the Middle East. THE GREEN Party of the United States, on the other hand, has decided that the root cause of environmental problems in the Middle East is more systemic - and that the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Israel. As such, only by excising the Jewish state from the Middle East can these problems be solved. To bring this about, and replace Israel with a supposedly secular-democratic Palestine, they have opted for advocating divestment from Israel. In their words: "The party calls on all civil society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program [of Israel]. Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state level boycotts." The Green Party's decision to disengage itself from Israel was done under the false pretext of social justice. It seeks to punish a country whose democratic credentials are well known. In Israel, unlike any other country in the region, any individual or organization can appeal for justice or disagree with national policies through the open press, the independent judicial system and through the right of every citizen to vote. Researchers and journalists can freely access archival data, interview whoever they please, and then publish conclusions whether or not they are critical of the state. Numerous environmental injustices have been and continue to be exposed and resolved in exactly this manner. These same rights are unavailable in dozens of countries the world over. Yet they seem to hold no value for the Green Party. In a world of rampant injustices, the Green Party singles out the Jewish state as a singular source of evil. So bewitched are they by incessant anti-Israel propaganda and so blind to global and regional context, they crassly disregard the fact that Israel outscores every country in the Middle East on every measurement of freedom. The Greens also ignore the state of war that exists between Israel and Palestinian rejectionist groups, and with Hizbullah. They also ignore the fact that Israel may soon be living in the shadow of Iranian nuclear missiles. So, by ignoring the Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, suicide bombers from Jenin and a growing nuclear shadow, the Green Party exposes itself to be rather fickle in its commitment to non-violence. SADLY, THE Green Party decision actually undermines progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Moreover, as it swings its indiscriminate club of divestment at Israel, it alienates those Israelis and American Jews who have been working toward regional cooperation on environmental issues and toward addressing the environmental problems in Israel that arise out of discrimination. But this policy will also boomerang against the Green Party in the United States by exposing it as narrow-minded. And this bigotry of the national party will delegitimize local chapters as well, truncating their modest gains in influencing local policies. Perhaps the Green Party's national leadership is beyond hope and is prepared to meet every critique with well-worn platitudes about bad Israelis and a laundry list of evil deeds. However, we can hope the rank-and-file Greens will emulate the British University Teachers Union, which threw out a similar proposal that was forced through by its leadership, unbeknownst to its constituency. Similarly, the electorate of Somerville, Massachusetts, threw out a like-minded resolution. Indeed, proposal after proposal for divestment has been defeated in American universities. Reasonable people understand Israel in a global context, and appreciate the need for intellectuals to maintain a free exchange of ideas. Just as the United Nations overturned its infamous 1975 "Zionism is Racism" resolution, the Green Party still has time to correct its current mistake. We in the Jewish-American and Israeli environmental movement will continue our work to correct the flaws in Israeli democracy that have contributed to environmental degradation and injustice. It's a shame, though, that the Green Party has chosen to ambush, ostracize and divest from us when it should have been a natural ally. The writer is a PhD candidate at Brown University's Center for Environmental Studies and vice-chair of the Green Zionist Alliance.