JERUSALEM (Jun. 25)
For the first time, the World Zionist Congress passed resolutions on recycling and clean rivers thanks to one of the newest players in the arena – the Green Zionist Alliance.
An umbrella group of Jewish environmental organizations in the United States, the alliance hopes to influence Israel’s environmental policy through its affiliation with the World Zionist Organization.
“Four years ago no one had green on their agenda, and this year, Mercaz Olami ran a good part of its platform as a green platform,” said Noam Dolgin, 29, chair of the alliance. He was referring to the voting bloc of the Conservative movement’s wing of the Zionist party, of which the green alliance is part.
This was the alliance’s second time at the congress. held every four years, the congress draws some 2,000 delegates and activists from around the world, which ended June 22.
Alliance members say the growing Jewish environmental movement in the United States can have a role in Israel, translating the experience of activism to Israel and focusing on sustainable development in the Jewish state.
“For us North American Zionists, the classical definition of Zionism has changed,” Dolgin said. The focus now is on building a better Israel, one that cares about protecting the land the Jews waited so long to return to.
Israel today is a country where urban sprawl and development quickly eat up open space, pollution levels double every decade, coral reefs face extinction and the Dead Sea is shrinking every year.
The alliance hopes to reduce Israel’s use of oil, air pollution and asthma levels. It would like to see full environmental impact statements for all projects that the WZO funds, the integration of ecological education into the school curriculum, restoration of rivers and increased collaboration on environmental projects with Israel’s neighbors.
“More than the Jews have kept the Land of Israel, the Land of Israel has kept the Jews,” alliance co-founder Rabbi Michael Cohen said, riffing on a famous maxim about how Shabbat helped sustain the Jewish nation.
The alliance passed three resolutions at the congress and secured a senior position for one of its members with the Jewish National Fund.
David Borowich, a delegate for the young people’s party Dor Zion, said the Green Zionist Alliance’s presence was an important development.
“It made people conscious and aware, and just for that it was worthwhile that they attended. But the real question remains to be seen, which is whether or not the world Zionist resolutions have real teeth,” he said.
One resolution called for bolstering the JNF’s environmental policies, including a commitment to sustainable development, specifically concerning river restoration and forestation. Another called for the WZO to create its own environmental plan.
A third resolution called for the WZO, JNF and the Jewish Agency for Israel to begin using recycled paper.
The recycling proposal was created by Rebecca Weaver, 21. Like several alliance members, she’s a graduate of the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies on Kibbutz Ketura.
Israel currently doesn’t produce any recycled paper, but Weaver located a factory interested in producing some.
“We are creating a market to spark an industry,” she said. The hope is that the move will encourage use of recycled paper across Israel.
At the last congress, in 2002, the alliance secured two spots on the JNF’s board of directors. One of the alliance representatives to the JNF’s board is American-born Alon Tal, one of Israel’s leading environmental activists.
At the congress it also was decided that Tal would have a senior position in the JNF, in addition to his seat on the organization’s board.
The JNF is the body with the most responsibility for land in Israel, but environmental activists long have complained that the organization is run by politicians who aren’t necessarily environmentalists.
JNF spokesperson Shlomit Sharvit defended the organization’s leadership, noting outgoing chairman Yehiel Leket’s emphasis on environmentally sound practices and projects. Sharvit also said that it was the WZO that determined that politicians were usually elected to the JNF’s top job.
In any case, the alliance hopes its increased role will help make the JNF greener.
Cohen, one of the alliance’s three delegates at the congress, was pleased by the group’s achievements.
“I feel like we were a little acorn that got to act to like a big tree – that our influence was much larger than our numbers,” he said.