Dov Maimon

Climate action in Israel as a bridge for Jewish peoplehood

The environment is a unifying issue and bold new joint initiatives between Israel and Diaspora Jews should be created and feature prominently on the Jewish agenda

After years of neglect, Israel’s new Minister of Environmental Protection, Tamar Zandberg, herself an environmental activist, has advanced a bold initiative to address the climate crisis. It is true that Israel’s behavior in this sphere, good or bad, is of little importance to the earth’s future. China and India produce more carbon emissions per week than Israel does over an entire year. However, there are other reasons why it is important for Israel to adopt a responsible approach to the environment: the chance to participate in a global effort; the need to abide by the norms that govern countries Israel wishes to emulate; and, of course, the hope of preserving those few beaches and green spaces that have not yet been densely populated.

These are the better-known reasons, but there are additional arguments for positioning Israel as a pioneer of sustainability and the circular economy. These arguments are rooted in the idea that all crises may be transformed into opportunities – something that some Jews have successfully done throughout history. I identify three opportunities before us as the Glasgow Climate Change Conference convenes.

First, despite the State Comptroller’s harsh criticism, published last week, regarding Israel’s suboptimal preparedness for coping with climate change, Israel has a competitive-technological advantage in several environmental fields vital to human survival. Israel possesses knowledge and experience in water resource management, in the recycling of treated wastewater for irrigation, and in other advanced environmental technologies.

Just last week, Israeli solar energy companies won huge tenders in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Israel’s small size, centralization, and extensive network of high-speed technological infrastructures make it an effective laboratory for smart and energy-saving systems (just as it was an effective laboratory for the COVID-19 vaccine trials).

The greater Israel’s involvement as a provider of solutions to humanity’s existential problems in the 21st century (water, energy, security, agriculture, healthcare), the higher its status and attractiveness as a partner in the global alliance market. What this means is that as Israel becomes greener and increases its investment in eco-friendly technologies, its diplomatic economic, and security status will also improve.

Second, Minister Zandberg has rightly noted the importance of regional cooperation. The Middle East Green Initiative launched last week by Saudi Arabia is an opportunity for Israel to engage in regional climate crisis collaborations. The countries of the region, even those unfriendly to Israel, are at risk for water shortages and are eager for technological assistance. Israel has know-how in such areas as leak prevention, desalination, theft detection, and water-conserving irrigation.

The third opportunity opening up for Israel is less talked about, but exceedingly important, nonetheless. What I’m referring to is the mobilization of Diaspora Jewry to partner with Israel as pioneers and leaders in eco-friendly technology.

Sustainability is a burning issue for a whole generation of young people in the West, including tens of thousands of young Jews. What distances these young people from Israel largely concerns Israeli policies they have trouble reconciling with their liberal values. Unlike the human-rights dilemmas that polarize Jews and engender discord, environmental protection could potentially connect them and serve as a welcome bridge for joint action. Issues of environmental urgency are currently neglected, with almost no real joint Israel-Diaspora activity. Creative thinking will be required, and a suitable infrastructure and organizational framework will have to be established, in order for cooperative endeavors to address climate change to be undertaken.

The potential exists; if it is realized, Israel will benefit. The joint initiatives could be carried out in Israel, in neighboring countries, or in more distant, developing countries. Based on past experience, meaningful activity that engages similarly minded young Jews in a common endeavor aligned with their values will connect them and create relationships and a sense of mutual commitment. Even progressive Jews who find it hard to accept Israeli policy in various areas can relate to joint Jewish initiatives to improve Bedouin agriculture in the Negev, to assist Palestinian farmers, or to help needy populations in South America. Even radical Israeli or Diaspora peace activists can work together to build solar-powered systems for water extraction in African villages lacking electricity.

The climate crisis is a threat to mankind as a whole. The Jewish people must join the effort to address it, while using it as a springboard to improve Israel’s international and economic standing, and to reach out to distant Jews.

About the Author
Dr. Dov Maimon is a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. An agricultural engineer and expert on Jewish thought by training, he coordinates JPPI's activity on sustainability and the climate crisis.
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