Greens suffer internal blues as they announce Knesset list

Party secretary wants court to eject longtime leader Pe'er Visner.

Given the escalating public concern for environmental issues, the elections of 2009 would seem to offer an unprecedented opportunity for a green party to clear the 2 percent Knesset threshold for the first time. Indeed, several surveys in recent weeks have indicated that the greens might make it into parliament come February. But as Israel's veteran Green Party announced its list for the 18th Knesset on Tuesday, its campaign was suffering a severe case of the blues. A new party - the Green Movement - has just emerged to challenge its would-be environmental hegemony, several other parties have candidates who are energetically talking up their ostensible green credentials, and the public is also grappling with the further potential confusion of the Green Leaf, pro-marijuana, party. Worse, a split is looming within the ranks of the Green Party itself. The candidates list named on Tuesday placed longtime party leader Pe'er Visner in the top spot, but the party's secretary general, Hadas Shachnai, has petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to have him ousted on the grounds that he has exceeded his term limits as party head. The party has been led by Visner since its inception more than a decade ago, but its new bylaws limit the chairman to two four-year terms. Moreover, Shachnai maintains the list itself announced on Tuesday may be invalid since a new party chairman must be elected by an interim party committee before the list has been decided upon. Polls have given a green party a decent chance of getting into the Knesset this time around, but the surveys have been based on a non-specific reference to "greens." A choice of green options on polling day would greatly reduce the prospect of one or more of the parties clearing the 2% threshold. The Green Party has failed to pass the threshold in three attempts. If the court rules in favor of Visner, Shachnai might be tempted to join forces with the Green Movement. If that happens, it is not clear whether she would go alone or bring others along. Shachnai told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday she would wait for the court's ruling before making any decisions of her own. According to Shachnai's petition, which she filed on Sunday, the new charter adopted by the party gives the chairman extraordinary powers. Among them is the ability to choose the first 10 candidates for the party's Knesset list. However, to balance that authority, a chairman can only serve for two consecutive terms of four years each, and a new chair must be elected before the party chooses its list. According to Shachnai, as Visner has chaired the party since December 1997, he has exceeded his term limits and a new chairman should have been elected. Shachnai has asked the court to hand down its decision before Sunday, as all parties must submit their candidate lists by midnight on that day. The last date before which a party can register its list to run for the Knesset. She has also asked the court to name her head of the committee that chooses a new party chairman, because until Visner announced the new list unilaterally, she was No. 2 on the list, and therefore should have been made interim chairwoman in the absence of an elected chair. After exhausting all internal options to rectify the situation, they turned to the court, the petition states. Green Party spokesman Ido Tandovsky told the Post the party had no comment except to say that "we await the decision of the court. Let the court decide." Two former Shinui members made it into the top five of Visner's new list - Ilan Shalgi at No. 2 and former Shinui head Avraham Poraz at No. 5. As was reported on Monday, veteran Yediot Aharonot journalist Ariella Ringle Hoffman will be running in the third slot. Over a 20-year career, she has written many stories with serious environmental impact, including the revelation that private interests were taking control of Lake Kinneret's beaches. The late Ephraim Kishon's son, Rafi Kishon, a veterinarian and newspaper columnist, rounded out the top five at No. 4. He would advocate for animal rights in the Knesset if elected, the party said. Visner is also a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and a member of the city council in charge of environmental projects. Shalgi is a former environment minister and science minister, and a former head of the environment lobby in the Knesset. Poraz is a former interior minister whose environmental credits include battles against fish farming in Eilat and the Safdie development plan for Jerusalem, as well as being one of the initiators of the Bottle Deposit Law, according to the party.