Why green in this election is actually Blue and White

Miki Haimovich on campaign visit, reviews development plans that would destroy the proposed Mount Heret nature reserve outside Jerusalem, with leaders from the Society of Protection of Nature in Israel. (courtesy)
Miki Haimovich on campaign visit, reviews development plans that would destroy the proposed Mount Heret nature reserve outside Jerusalem, with leaders from the Society of Protection of Nature in Israel. (courtesy)

If Israel’s environment could vote, if nature had a say — who it would it support in this week’s elections? We humans hold the land of Israel in trust for all of the creatures of the land. So it is well to consider the well-being of all the natural stakeholders, along with that of future generations, when deciding who to entrust with governing the land of Israel. The answer is actually a “no-brainer”: anyone who wants to make a Green strategic vote — needs to cast their ballot for Blue and White.” Here’s why:

The past decade has not been a happy one for Israel’s ecological systems.  While there are certainly isolated achievements, at the end of the day, nature does not lie.  The trends are alarmed:  Globally, biodiversity is in freefall, with a 60 percent loss of all animals in the wild during the past 45 years.  Israel is part of this phenomenon with much of its rich, invaluable, biodiversity also showing signs of collapse.  The bi-annual “State of Nature” report, assembled by a consortium of official agencies, reports that over half of the country’s 115 mammal species are disappearing.  A few years ago, for the first time ever, Israel’s iconic gazelle population was listed as in danger of extinction.  And while Israel has pledged to do its part for climate change, actual carbon emissions continue to rise.

Open spaces paid a high price as the Netanyahu government obsessively pursued new housing plans with little regard to the usual planning precautions: Some 20 square kilometers of open space give way to development each year.  All this makes the coming elections especially critical.

It is ironic indeed that  Avi Gabai, who now heads the Labor Party, actually served for  a year of Minister of Environment in Netanyahu’s present government.  Appointed by Moshe Kahlon, with the specific instructions to squelch environmental delays of housing projects, Gabai was notorious for his disinterest in basic ministry programs like recycling or climate change.  Zeev Elkin, who took his place as Minister of Environment, spent most of his time unsuccessfully running for mayor of Jerusalem, with little concern for the country’s environmental health.  The abysmal results should come as no surprise.

If the many millions of animals raised on Israel’s farms had a say, they surely would want dramatic reforms.  It is true that Israel has a robust and growing vegetarian and vegan community.  This makes the 4% annual increase in meat consumption each year even more disconcerting.

Beef was once a rarity and a luxury in Israel.  No longer: on average, Israelis consume 36 pounds per year.  Half of Israelis insist on having their beef “fresh”, which means that Israel imports scores of live animals for local slaughtering.  Crammed into jam-packed ships, the cows suffer long, excruciating journeys from Portugal, Romania and Australia. Chickens, however, are actually Israelis’ meat of choice.  Israel is literally a poultry champion, with roughly 130 pounds of chicken consumed per capita, per year.  The animals are raised in some of the most crowded cages in the world.

Only recently has Israel’s environmental movement paid attention to this issue and made the connection between the environment and the meat industry.  Yet, with the Ministry of Agriculture almost entirely responsible for overseeing animal welfare, and a Minister of Agriculture whose primary concern was funneling funds to West Bank constituents,  the situation was completely foreign to the government’s agenda.  This too must change.

One of the main reasons that Israeli environmentalists finally began to work together with their sister movement – the dedicated animal rights and welfare activists–  is Miki Haimovich.  After almost two decades gaining the public’s trust as Israel’s nightly news, anchorwoman, Haimovich decided to embark on a new career as an environmental leader.  A vegan herself, Haimovich helped transform what was previously deemed an unconventional diet into a mainstream, ethical alternative.  In bringing the “Meatless Monday’ movement to Israel, she consistently pointed out that  the connection between climate change and the country’s diet.  (Indeed, recent 2017 estimates calculate that at least a quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions arise from the meat industry.). Haimovich began producing a prime time a series of films on Channel 2 about everything from the problems of plastic and  food waste to the beleaguered condition of the Mediterranean.  Finally, Israel’s environment movement had a celebrity on its side.

It was only a few months ago, that Haimovich decided to leave the comfort and consensus popularity of life as a senior journalist, answering the call to join the new Blue and White political list.  She is now the highest ranking woman in the party. There are many ministerial posts she could expect to receive, but Haimovich has been very clear about her calling: assuming that the party forms the government coalition, she wishes to be appointed Minister of Environment.

This situation, historically, is unique.  Israel has a ridiculously long list of fifteen environmental ministers who have held the post during the past thirty years.  With the possible exception of Gilad Ardan, none of them wanted the job. They all perceived it as a “booby prize” — the least prestigious of government ministries.  In retrospect, few past Ministers invested any political capital trying to expand the financial resources or the authorities of the Ministry. And all of them, took the very first opportunity available  to run off to assume other posts, immediately forgetting the platitudes that they had learned to mindlessly repeat about Israel’s responsibility to the environment.

That’s why this election is different.  Miki Haimovich has already assembled a group of top environmental experts to help her put together a 100 day action plan for an effective launch once in office.  It contains a green vision that environmentalists until now have only been able to fantasize about: doubling the size of renewable energy targets; stopping the brutal transports of live animals to Israel; initiating a national masterplan for preserving ecological corridors and declaring 16 new nature reserve; reconsidering the proximity of the offshore gas processing platforms to Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.  The list goes on and on.  The action plan is replete with outcome and output indicators, offering a level of resolution and commitment that is entirely unheard of in Israel’s public policy realm.  The Ministry’s budget, staff and impact will meaningfully increase.  Gantz, an avid hiker and environmentalist himself, offers her full support.

There have been impressive and even heroic Israeli parliamentarians who fought for the environment in the past.  In the most recent Knesset, the brainy Communist legislator Dov Henin and energy activist turned Labor party MK, Yael Cohen-Paran come to mind.   But neither of them will be back after April 9th:  Henin announced his retirement and Cohen-Paran was appointed far too low in the Labor party’s list to be a realistic candidate.  In contrast, Haimovich will not only be elected to the Knesset –she will be the environmental minister. But only if Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party forms the government.

That’s why anyone who cares about Israel’s ecological future needs to make sure that this happens.  That’s why Blue and White offers the only real option of hope and health for our country’s troubled environment.

About the Author
Professor Alon Tal, is the chair of the Tel Aviv University Department of Public Policy and a veteran environmental activist.
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