In the leadup to this week’s municipal elections in Israel, Tzafrir Rinat, the respected environmental correspondent of the daily newspaper Haaretz, discussed the local environmental political parties in his article “The Green Party – mostly bluster“. Since the other player in the field, “the Israel Green Movement” is brand new, Rinat evaluated the 10 year old “Green Party“:
But in Israel, experience shows that the green parties’ environmentalism is sheer pretension, especially if compared to the green parties in Europe, which have become significant social and political factors with broad worldviews on many issues. [. . .]
The two main characteristics, in recent years, of the green parties in Europe are their democratic institutionalism and their broad political platforms. However, the local Green Party is totally different.
To this day, the party lacks any democratic setup and its worldview is worryingly narrow. It almost ignores social and political aspects pertaining to Israeli society. On the issue of peace talks, the party promises to “advance the peace process with our neighbors and the Arab world through peace and solidarity.” Not exactly a political manifesto.
The party’s activists are devoted to environmental issues but the party lacks the intellectualism that is usually part and parcel of parties sharing the same environmental-social orientation in Europe. Also, it is bereft of any significant social-minded activists. Meanwhile, it is best known for placing celebrities high on its list.
According to Rinat’s worldview, a Green party must be intellectual, and promote a social-liberal agenda, with a strong emphasis on “combin[ing] environmental issues with social ones and be able to deal with a broad range of aspects of Israeli society, like promoting peace talks and human rights.”
Rinat’s position calls for a critical look at what we really want from an environmental party: should it be a “single issue” party and limit itself to a sectorial view and work for “the environment,” whatever that is? A single-issue party like this should be at home in a left-wing government just as much as in a right-wing coalition. Its members should agree to vote in such a way that will further the environmental agenda, even if they have to support social or political laws that they disagree with – cutting welfare benefits, supporting funding for settlements, or approving a territorial withdrawal.
Alternatively, should an environmental party follow the European model presented by Rinat and define an entire liberal social and political political platform? Let’s assume, for example, the party defines a leftist and interventionist economic agenda, agressively pursues peace talks (e.g. “talk with Hamas now with no preconditions” or calls for territorial concessions as Prime Minister Olmert just did), and calls for separation of religion and state. These are all central “social and political aspects pertaining to Israeli society” that Rinat claims are missing. How many right-wing environmentalists will join this green party? Free marketers? Religious?
In the Israeli political and social reality, it seems to me that the Greens, as a small party, can best gain support for their agenda by trading their support for issues outside their environmental “core values”. In order to form enough of a consensus around their platform, the environmental politicians must prioritize their goals. They will often have to choose between the environment and other priorities, however important they might seem.
Historically, the most successful small parties in Israel have been the religious parties (before most of them became right-wing). They joined and supported all of the governments, right or left wing, in return for Ministries (usually religion, education, and/or interior), funding for their institutions, and religious legislation. Whether you agree with their viewpoint or not, they have been very successful in protecting their interests using this strategy. Also, consider the success of the Retiree’s Party in the last elections who ran on a single issue ticket, without defining a clear platform or manifesto on most of the crucial issues.
Many of the problems of Israel’s political system have been attributed to the disproportionate power of small parties, and a significant number of Israelis refuse to vote for them solely for that reason. Add to that a reluctance to vote for parties that may not pass the minimum vote requirement, and it becomes clear that there are enough inherent obstacles without adding more.
Can a Green Party afford to alienate a large segment of the voting population because of non-environmental issues? This is an issue that requires serious debate, before anyone decides to follow the European model of Environmental politics.
Tzafrir Rinat article “The Green Party – mostly bluster“, Haaretz