Eight months ago, Israeli environmental veterans founded Tnua Yeruka, or the Green Movement. Led by Eran Ben-Yemini, the founder of the student environmental movement Megama Yeruka, and by veteran Israeli environmentalist Alon Tal, Tnua Yeruka aims to marry the values of the green worldview with those of traditional left-wing parties, such as reducing the gaps between the rich and poor and negotiating with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon. The full party platform is here.
Green Prophet sat with Green Movement spokesperson Rami Livni last week in a café on Tel Aviv’s King George Street. Currently the Media Project Coordinator at the Heschel Center, Livni has an MA in literature from Tel Aviv University and was foreign editor at Haaretz. In jeans and a light green t-shirt bearing the Green Movement logo, Livni explained the history and vision of his party.
There is already one green party, Hayerukim (The Greens) in Israel. Why a new environmental party?
The green political option is a part of any normal, Western political system, as the third strongest one, in countries like France and Germany. Israel doesn’t have to be different. Of course as long as it is not a narrow, niche party, but green in its broad meaning – including social, political, civic and humanist principles.
The story of the Greens in Israel is a sad story and maybe one of the most dangerous phenomena in recent years in the political arena. There is no serious environmentalist or green activist in Israel that supports the Greens. It’s a party that involves a combination of people with great interests, real estate and corporate, who are only superficially green without a deep understanding of what green is. The leaders of the Greens are also close to the right wing in Israel. The environmental movement and the social movement in Israel need a real green, social democratic party.
How many members do you have?
Close to 1,000.
Where was the idea for the party born?
The central environmental activists have been thinking about this option for years but we felt that the time hadn’t come yet. We didn’t feel that either we or the public was ready for a green party. This has changed in recent years. There is more green awareness in Israel and in the world.
For example, the fact that we succeeded – often through MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) – to pass the Polluter Pays law and the Clean Air law in Knesset. Moving the fish cages out of Eilat. Stopping the Safdie building plan in Jerusalem. This made us reach the conclusion that it’s time to conquer the only arena we are not represented in, which is Knesset.
Is Dov Khenin in Tnua Yeruka?
No, he’s not. We were part of the party led by Dov Khenin – Ir Lekulanu – in Tel Aviv.
What do you tell someone who is afraid to vote for you because of the chance Binyamin Netanyahu, of Likud, could get elected as Prime Minister?
We say that if he really wants to stop Bibi, he needs to vote for us because we are part of the center-left bloc, and while he votes for us he votes for candidates he can trust. In any case, we wouldn’t be part of Bibi’s government. And we advise that voter not to forget that when he votes for Tsipi Livni, he also votes for her party, which includes Shaul Mofaz and Haim Ramon. Don’t waste your vote. It’s still a vote that goes to the bloc.
What are your environmental goals?
Today about two thirds of transportation investment goes to private transportation and one third to public. We will turn that balance upside down.
We will also stop construction of any polluting power stations based on coal and draw up a plan for reducing energy consumption and promoting renewable energy. We’ll triple the budget of the environmental defense ministry and raise its enforcement capacities. We will reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in cities.
Today Israel recycles a very tiny percentage of waste – about 2 percent. We think it can go up to 20 percent in the next five years, including cans, bottles, everything, by a general law that tackles any kind of packaging, and by taxing the disposal of packaging.
Do you have an agriculture policy?
Even when it is not profitable in the narrow meaning of profitable, agriculture is of great value as part of the Israel culture and as part of our heritage, and it’s part of our vision for keeping Israel green. We will promote organic and clean agriculture through taxes and grants, and we will increase the use of purified wastewater for irrigation.
We will also encourage local consumption and local growing because we believe there is no reason for Israelis to consume and import produce from China and the ends of the earth, with all their associated environmental costs.
How will you pay for these goals?
In the long run these goals save money, in terms of less disease, less loss of labor to sick days.
What about your social goals?
Israeli is becoming one of the world champions in the gaps between the rich and the poor. This is because there is no national goal for fighting poverty, and only one for promoting growth. We need a national goal for poverty, with very specific criteria.
The plan must include stopping the privatization of the education system in Israel in favor of building better quality, humanistic schools in the periphery, especially in weak towns and communities.
And we want to change the status of teachers in Israel, not only by increasing their salary, but also by improving the level of teachers through better recruiting and training.
Interview (in Hebrew) with Livni on the political TV show London and Kirschenbaum:
How are you getting your message out?
We have parlor meetings and conferences in Israel from Eilat to Kiryat Shmona every day. And also people from outside the center of the country are at our meetings, and will be on the list of candidates for the Knesset, as well as women, Arabs, masorati and secular Jews.
So are you going to pull votes away from parties like Shas and Hadash?
Look, let’s be realistic, These people will not vote for us – this time. But we still hope some day they may. We will not be a party of the top decile. We will be a party of the people affected by the economic crisis – not only the poor but also the middle class, students and young families.
What do you do when your goals clash, such as stopping construction of the coal power plant in Ashkelon, which could provide jobs for poorer people who need the work?
You can always claim that any project in the world can employ people. This is not a rational argument. What will really give people work and reduce unemployment is investing in green jobs and clean energy. This can create 10,000 new jobs, much more than those planned for Ashkelon. Obama just promised 5 million new jobs in this sector. There’s no reason that can’t happen in Israel. Israel can be a superpower in green industry and research.
Other Israeli political parties have taken Obama’s Web design (Likud) and slogan (Shas). What is the Green Movement copying from Obama?
If someone like a right-wing, outdated politician like Netanyahu, or the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party claims to be Obama, which is the newest thing, this is sad. But if someone claims to be close to the politics that Obama represents, of course, it should be a party that combines green and social values, and that is the Green Movement.
We have the spirit of Obama’s campaign, but we don’t have time for his campaign. Obama had two years. We have two months. We don’t have much money, we will not receive any donations from big corporate donors or real estate interests. One thing we did learn from Obama is to take small contributions. Israeli law says families can’t donate more than 2000 shekels.
Because the Green Movement was founded by environmental activists, a lot of these people will be leaving their posts at NGOs. You, for example, will be leaving your role as media coordinator at the Heschel Center. How do you think environmental organizations will be affected by this loss of staff?
This will strengthen the environmental movement in Israel. We will have allies and we will work in cooperation with the NGOs. Good parliamentarian work can be done only in concert with NGOs and the community. We will not shut ourselves away in the Knesset. We will still be at demonstrations, we will still climb trees. Nothing will be changed.
:: The Green Movement