A central Heschel Center message is that the climate crisis one of the leading challenges of our generation. However, many Israeli decision makers like to note that Israel is a tiny country whose carbon footprint has a marginal impact on global emission levels. But what most of the Israeli public doesn’t realize is that Israel is more vulnerable than other countries to the impacts of climate change. A recent article published by the Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Changes research group shows that the warming process in the Mediterranean basin is 1.5 times more rapid.
Add to that increased desertification, population growth and overcrowding along with regional impacts like food production, water distress, and climate refugees, and the continued apathy of most politicians in Israel becomes even more shortsighted. According to this article, an unaddressed climate crisis ensures that Israel will be both hotter and poorer. Indeed, according to one recent extensive expose, Israel’s future in the face of runaway climate change is indeed bleak.
Yet, out of the nine parties who crossed the threshold and made it into the Knesset on September 17th, only two parties are promoting environmental issues as part of their party platforms. Kahol Lavan (Blue and White party) recently held a well-attended election rally that focused on environmental issues. Party leader Benny Gantz recruited Miki Haimovich before the last elections in April and she is now a member of Knesset. Haimovich, a former television journalist and environmental activist who brought “Meatless Mondays” to Israel, has made sustainability part of her platform and is bolstered by long-time Heschel ally Prof. Alon Tal, Head of the Public Policy track at Tel Aviv University and veteran environmental champion.
The other party is the Democratic Union, a recent merger of three progressive parties – Meretz, Democratic Israel and the Green Movement, which launched their platform for the Israeli version of a Green New Deal (GND) during the last week of August. The idea of a political party promoting an integrated policy platform that combines environmental, social and economic factors in the areas of clean energy, urban planning, transportation, green taxes and changing consumer behavior is new and refreshing in the Israeli political landscape, and has the potential to garner wider support. Championing this model is Yael Cohen Paran, founder and former director of the Israel Energy Forum, former MK and number eight on the Democratic Union list, who unfortunately did not make it into the Knesset. The Green New Deal platform is party policy for the Democratic Union, led by media personality and Heschel alumnus, Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz).
Another Heschel alum, veteran social and environmental activist, former MK Dov Khenin, has been instrumental in developing policy that is part of the GND plan. Even though he was always in the opposition, he personally was responsible for passing over 100 pieces of legislation, including the Israeli Clean Air Act, the Polluter Should Pay bill, Environmental Enforcement, Protection of the Sea of Galilee and Eilat Bay, and many other significant laws, that together make up the environmental revolution of Israeli legislation. You can read here an in-depth interview with Dov, by a long-time supporter of the Heschel Center, the German Heinrich Boell Foundation.