Land above politics

An environmental challenge to Israel's political parties.

enviornment 88 (photo credit: )
enviornment 88
(photo credit: )
Many Israelis are focused on the March 28 elections, but one wonders how aware they are that in the campaign itself environmental issues have largely been ignored. "None of the candidates at the head of the major parties has made a reasoned and professional announcement on environmental matters," says Alona Sheafer-Karo, director of the environmental umbrella organization Life & Environment. Such a state of affairs is appalling. For too long the Jewish value of caring for the environment has, when it comes to the Land of Israel, been put on the back burner as we wait for the conflict between Israel and her neighbors to finish. This is the reason for the formation of the Green Zionist Alliance. We can nolonger afford to allow environmental concerns to be lost in the shuffle of the other important issues. Paraphrasing the Zionist philosopher Ahad Ha'am, one might say, "More than the Jews have kept the Land of Israel, the Land of Israel has kept the Jews." One of our most important decisions, made at the moment we were expelled from the land, was to keep our connection to the land strong. The Romans knew this when, hoping to sever that connection, they changed the name of the land from Israel to Palestine. We made the connection strong by making it tangible, real and full of meaning. It is not surprising that when the Dalai Lama asked to be taught the secret of our maintaining our identity over thousands of years of exile - anticipating that the Tibetan exile will be long as well - the rabbis and teachers he met told him: Maintain a real connection with your land. THE GREAT irony is that at the Zionist Congress in June, Israeli political parties will fight over who gets to be appointed new chair of the Jewish National Fund, as though that position were part of the justified spoils of political warfare. For too long this crucial position has been tossed back and forth in the political wars rather than be given to someone with strong environmental credentials. With all due respect to those who have taken the position seriously, it is time for the JNF chair to go to someone who brings serious environmental expertise and genuine caliber to the position. Dr. Alon Tal is such a person, and the Green Zionist Alliance will be putting his name forward to become the next JNF chair. At the age of 29, Tal founded Adam Teva V'din, and at the age of 36 he founded the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. He is a co-founder of EcoPeace, now called Friends of the Earth Middle East. Tal is a past chair of Life & Environment, and the author of Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. He also holds a Ph.D from Harvard University in Environmental Health, and earlier this year was awarded the prestigious Charles Bronfman Award for "developing a dynamic regional environmental movement" and having "changed the face of environmental policy in Israel." WE ARE told that the Land of Israel was assigned to us as a sacred trust. That trust, if we are to take it seriously, includes the care of Israel's soil, water, air and animal life. The health of the land is a good barometer of the health of the Zionist movement. Zionism stands not just for returning the people to the land, but also for the care of that land so the Jewish people may thrive on it. For almost 2,000 years we prayed for the ability to return to Israel's soil. The land, as always, calls out to us. We must answer that call by standing and working for sustainable development, preserving open spaces, and environmental justice for all of Israel's citizens. In the days that remain before the election, I hope the major parties will clarify just how important the environment is on their agendas. The writer, a rabbi, is co-founder of the Green Zionist Alliance.