January 24, 2011
Three years ago, along with other long-time environmental and social activists, I helped established a new Green political party in Israel. The Green Movement and its very high quality candidates and clear vision for a healthier Israel generated great interest. Despite the war in Gaza and considerable disinformation by rival political parties, we did well in the past elections – receiving enough votes for one seat in the Knesset. Sadly, the law requires a minimum “two-seat” threshold for a party to be represented in Parliament. So the party has begun to learn the necessary lessons, regroup and look to the future.
Israel’s democracy needs a fresh political vision. Its old institutions are in free-fall. On the left-side of the map – in less than twenty years, support for the Labor party has slid from some 40 to only 8 seats today. All polls show that public confidence has further eroded so that by the next elections, it might disappear altogether. Meretz, the other expression of leftist-Zionism has also proven to be uninspiring, dropping from 12 to 3 seats. Financially the two parties are in such debt that prospects of bankruptcy actually loom. But not only are the bank accounts empty. Their message no longer seems to resonate. At the same time, Israel’s so-called “centrist” party, is also largely amorphous and characterized by in-fighting, corruption convictions and lack of a coherent agenda. It is time for something new. We believe that we offer a compelling alternative.
Across Europe today, green parties consistently capture up to 20% of the votes. Their starting point may be a clear response to environmental challenges – but the green agenda does not stop there. Israel of course also faces enormous ecological challenges – from a disappearing Dead Sea and devastated ecosystems to chronic air and water pollution along with an almost total absence of renewable energy. But this loss of shared resources is symptomatic of broader dynamics that are manifested in the country’s commons.
Israeli society’s safety net is unraveling. While Israel’s economy has grown impressively over the last two decades, many more Israelis are poorer than ever before. One in four citizens lives under the poverty line. What’s worse, two of every five Israeli children are poor, lacking books, clothing and sometimes food. One in three workers receives only minimum wage. Arab Israelis suffer more than Jews do. Their infant mortality rate is twice that of Jews’, while their high school graduation rate is half. Inequality does not only run along ethnic lines. Women’s wages remain a fraction of those earned by men. Capitulation to ultra-orthodox extremism has led to outrageous dynamics of women relegated to the backs of buses, continued discrimination against non-orthodox Judaism and unfair evasion of the draft by a growing percentage of citizens. This leads to a simmering hostility and polarization between Israelis All these things are unacceptable in a Jewish state. As Israel has become richer, it ironically has lost the compassion that marked the country when it was poorer and weaker. This is a direct result of an obtuse government and poor public policies.
Our goal is to make Israel more sustainable and to bring people together to return to the original Zionist commitment to community and the public good. This won’t happen by itself. And it won’t happen overnight. The fact that elections do not appear to be imminent offers us a huge advantage. We have to get organized and begin to establish the infrastructure and membership that will allow us be formidable part of a new coalition that can change present trends.
As party chairman, I have begun a process of negotiations with over forty city council members across twenty Israeli cities who ran for office under sundry “green” affiliations. There have been green “deputy mayors” in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Modi’in and we need to begin to work together. For instance, we have become increasingly engaged in helping Haifa’s green faction of three council members in their critical efforts to upgrade that city’s quality of life and address its public health crisis. We expect to bring an agreement that will unify local green politicians expand our party’s presence in the municipal governments dramatically during the coming months. We need not wait for elections to act on the local front.
On a national front the Green Movement is becoming increasingly engaged on a range of issues. For example, many of us were appalled when Israel’s cabinet appointed General Yoav Gallant to be the next of head of the IDF. We felt that someone who only recently had been indicted for seizing public lands on his Moshav could not serve as an example to our soldiers or lead a military which often is asked to respond to the lawless commandeering of Israel’s open spaces. These are the kinds of issues that ordinary non-profit groups shy away from – but that a political party with clear principles can and must address. Accordingly, our Supreme Court petition challenging the appointment has literally set the national agenda on this issue.
But our major focus remains getting ready for the next elections: We invite you to peruse our “Vision Statement” located on our web-site: (www.yeruka.org.il). Over a year in preparation and internal debates, the “Green Movement” offers a Zionist perspective that extends beyond a narrow, ecological “niche.” On the issue of peace and security, our positions are pragmatic. Like 80% of the Israeli public, we foresee a “two-state” solution, and seek ways to advance negotiations with the Palestinians. At the same time, we are acutely aware of the acute security threats that Israel faces. We would also like to see a future peace agreement ensure Israel’s environmental security as well. We believe that a Green movement has something new to say about restoring the harmony between the Jewish state and the land of Israel, as well as the harmony between the state and its citizens.
Israeli citizens are still idealistic and passionate about the country and its future. But we are also desperate for new leadership. I believe that if we work correctly and bring on the right partners, there is a chance now to make a real difference. We want to seize the moment, and we need your help. So what needs to be done? Clearly we need to raise funds and our primary efforts are targeted at the 30,000 Israelis who voted for us and the strong core of party members and activists. On February 11th, we are having internal elections to run the party until the national elections. This offers an opportunity to get to know the broad range of candidates and to influence where we are going.
So please consider joining “HaTnuah Ha Yerukah”. It is easy and it is not expensive – only100 shekels: Log onto our web-site: http://www.yeruka.org.il – and in one minute, instead of feeling frustration about Israel’s political system — you can be part of the solution. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Since I have begun to head the party, I have been traveling around the country, meeting citizens, especially young ones, who are anxious to be involved in what we have started. It is invariably an encouraging experience. At a time when many have written Israelis off as cynical and complacent, I am finding that most people remain passion and commitment. They too believe that Israel can be what we have always known it can be: a healthy place of beauty, creativity, humanity and decency.
Prof. Alon Tal
Acting Chair – The Green Movement