Labor and Meretz evinced concern on Thursday morning that the green parties could steal part of their voter base on Election Day and thus pass the threshold to get into the Knesset. During a panel sponsored by the Israel Union of Environmental Defense (IUED), Labor's Ophir Paz-Pines and Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz both attempted to disparage the Green Movement-Meimad and the Greens as "niche parties" that were too small to effect change. Even United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni urged voters to return established parties to the Knesset rather than vote for a green party - perhaps concerned that his small party could also suffer from the rise of the environmental parties. Five days before the voting booths were set to open, the panel featured representatives from most of the parties across the political spectrum, from Israel Beiteinu to Hadash. Conspicuous in his absence was Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima), who specifically boycotted the event, IUED head Tzipi Iser Itsik said. Ezra and the organization have been at loggerheads over a number of issues during his tenure as minister, and the NGO has made no secret of its belief that he could be doing a lot more for the environment. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) did attend and delivered a short speech before the panel. Instead of Ezra, Kadima was represented by No. 32 on their list, newcomer Doron Avital. He sat with veteran environmental legislators such as Paz-Pines, Gafni, Hadash's Dov Henin, Likud's Leah Nass and Green Movement-Meimad head Michael Melchior. Greens leader Pe'er Visner and Israel Beiteinu's Robert Ilatov rounded out the panel. Recent polls have shown the green parties hovering around the 2 percent threshold needed to enter the Knesset. According to internal polling information commissioned by the Green Movement-Meimad and obtained by The Jerusalem Post, if the question of passing the threshold were removed, the party would garner as much as 7% of the vote. One of the questions respondents were asked in a poll carried out this week by Maagar Mochot CEO Yitzhak Katz was, "If you knew for sure that the Green Movement-Meimad, led by Rabbi Michael Melchior and Eran Ben-Yemini, would pass the threshold, would you vote for them in the coming elections for the Knesset?" Four percent answered yes, and another 3% said definitely yes, according to Katz's results. A Globes-Geocartography poll from Monday put the Greens right around the 2% needed to get into the Knesset. Party members told the Post after the panel that they had seen a recent rise in support. Green Movement-Meimad officials also point to their great success in student polls across the country as an indication that they have support among those the regular surveys do not necessarily represent. While each representative championed their party's environmental credentials, Labor and Meretz were clearly more concerned about the green parties than Likud, Israel Beiteinu or Hadash were. During the panel, Paz-Pines said that "I had two options. I could either have brought a green party into an agreement with Labor or I could have tried to make Labor more green. I chose the second option. Labor is the most committed to the environment." Outside the room where the panel was being held, a group of environmental/Labor activists were handing out pamphlets explaining why only a large party could effect environmental change. Horowitz, meanwhile, began his remarks by disparaging the green parties as "niche parties" and championing Meretz as the only party serious about the environment that was assured of getting into the next Knesset. Responding to the moderator's question about Meretz's somewhat lackluster environmental record in the 17th Knesset, Horowitz said, "These elections are really about looking forward, not back." In response to this, Melchior quipped, "Every four years ahead of elections, Meretz talks about looking toward the future. Then they disappear for four years and reemerge to talk about looking to the future before the next elections." While there were no serious surprises among the panelists' responses, some small differences did emerge. While most of the panelists called for the Environmental Protection Ministry's minuscule budget of NIS 145m. to be increased, Ilatov called for long-term planning but no immediate increase to the ministry's budget. Paz-Pines also disagreed with his party colleague Ben-Eliezer about the need for a new coal power plant in Ashkelon. Paz-Pines even went so far as to say that he believed that it would never be built, despite strenuous efforts by Ben-Eliezer and his ministry to push the project forward.