A Government of Change — or Climate Change?

There is a new government of change in Israel – but will it be a government of climate change?  Israel’s environmental movement has reason to hope that yes, this new government leadership will take meaningful, positive change on core issues including climate change, energy and nature protection is on the agenda.

The new Minster of Environmental Protection is Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party. It is safe to say that no one has come to that job with a greater understanding of, and passion for, the environmental issues of the day. I say this because like so many in this field, I know her; she is personally acquainted with most of the leadership of the environmental policy community and its central grassroots activists. And, unlike many of her predecessors in that position, she appointed a veteran ministry professional as her CEO.

Her first declarations in office emphasized two top priorities for her term:

  • An uncompromising vision for Israel to generate 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
  • Canceling the dangerous agreement in which Israel turns into a land bridge for transporting Emirati oil to Europe, endangering ecosystems in the Red Sea, the Negev, and the Mediterranean.

But it’s not just Tamar – er, Minister Zandberg who gives us reason to hope. Under the “Norwegian Law” – where ministers can resign their seats in the Knesset to focus on ministry work, with their seats going to the next in line on that party’s Knesset slate —  Alon Tal of the Blue and White party also entered the Knesset.

For over three decades Alon has been one of Israel’s leading environmental activists and academics; he founded the Arava Institute and the Union For Environmental Defense, and has had leadership roles in countless other environmental movements and initiatives.

Alon doesn’t know this, but he’s a regular talking point in my speeches abroad, when I describe this American immigrant to Israel who has personally had a historic impact on Israel and its environment. And now in his new position, the work and the impact will continue as this most respected environmentalist enters our parliament.

And Tamar and Alon are not alone. Many current, and especially new, MKs are passionate about environmental issues. One, Idit Silman (from PM Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party) even completed her national service as a nature educator and guide in one of our Field Schools of my organization, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

For the first time, before the last Knesset elections, nearly every party assigned one of their MK’s to coordinate environmental issues for the party.  I can report that all of these MK’s have continued to cooperate with the green organizations on issues of concern. Finally, in 2021 we’ve reached a point where environmental concern has become a mainstream policy issue.

Not all is roses, however. There is a strong movement afoot under the general heading of “deregulation”, which carries potentially great environmental risks. In particular, Israel’s housing crisis remains an issue that the new government needs to solve, and this solution may well come at the cost of the environment.

So the question is, will our new environmental heroes in the government, together with the movement, the wider policy community, and the public at large – be able to meet the challenge to plan and develop a sustainable Israel, a green beacon to the nations?  Will we be able to protect our fauna and flora amidst shotgun permitting and planning processes, and secret agreements like the oil pipeline? Will this government even last long enough for us to find out?

If this government does make it out of the starting gate,  it will be because the disparate partners find consensus issues to advance together. What could be of greater consensus than striving to mitigate the effects of, and adapt to the inevitably of, a warming globe, especially here in the Middle East? Now is the time not just for change, but for climate change.


About the Author
Jay Shofet is the director of partnerships and development at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the oldest and largest environmental nonprofit organization in Israel. He previously served as the executive director of the Jerusalem-based Green Environment Fund.
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