Ofer Kot, #10 on the Green Movement – Meimad’s list of candidates for Israel’s Knesset, spent election day in February handing out the movement’s fliers to people at voting stations – as they were on their way out.
When asked why he was giving election fliers to people who had already voted, he replied: “To get people ready for the next elections.”
The Green Movement – Meimad, a collection of people with an exceptionally strong record of environmental activity in Israeli society, did not make it into the Knesset this time – although they came close. However, according to Daniel Orenstein, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Technion’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the man behind the movement’s “Unofficial Blog”, the Green Movement – Meimad is just getting started, and is already planning its campaign for the next Knesset elections.
So what now? What does a political movement, whose entire mandate is to influence Israeli law, policy and society, do when it cannot take part in the formal parliamentary process?
Orenstein: After the election results were announced, we had a short mourning period while absorbing the results – obviously we thought we had a good chance of getting in to Knesset. But within a day, activists and leaders of the party looked at our impressive performance – 27,000 votes for a party that had only formed two months earlier. Everyone – in meetings and blogs and personal conversations – declared that this was the beginning of our long road into politics.
We’ve already begun assessing where we succeeded and where we failed in the last election, and are asking important questions about our strategies, our platform and our partnerships. There are meetings taking place in local chapters, among the academic advisors and among the party leadership. Some of the important questions we are asking
are whether the Green Movement and Meimad should continue together (there is a lot of support for this), how to re-approach the various “green” parties regarding potential merging, and how to better convey our message to the broader public.
But it is nearly unanimous that we want to continue the effort we’ve begun, and that the Green Movement is here to stay.
The Green Movement – Meimad was the closest of all the parties that did not make it into the Knesset to passing the threshold. Will it attempt to regroup and make another effort in the future (especially considering that the next government is already talking about making it more difficult for small parties to get elected)?
We are absolutely continuing on. The Green Movement-Meimad activists were fired up in a way that surprised even the activists themselves – it was an amazing and invigorating process to be part of. We are talking about thousands of people who – like most of the Israeli electorate – were becoming incredibly cynical about Israeli politics and the ability of individuals to affect real change here. The Green Movement-Meimad vision and platform gave us new energy and optimism.
Activists were committing hours of volunteer work – canvassing the streets, working the internet, talking one-on-one with friends and family, demonstrating. I’ve never seen anything like it in politics – with the possible exception of Barack Obama’s campaign. And it paid off. No other party had that kind of energy and public presence. We will likely aim for municipal elections and then – once again – challenge the big parties in national elections.
We are not a special interest group – as much of the public perceives “small parties” to be, but rather a broad-based multi-issue party with something unique to say about all aspects of administration and governance in Israel.
To what do you attribute the results of the election? Is Israel perhaps not yet ready for its own green party? Or was it the war in Gaza, which skewed the agenda toward security issues?
I think it is a little of everything you’ve mentioned. It didn’t help that there were four parties with “green” in their title. It confused mainstream voters. However, we successfully conveyed the difference to the environmental community and won three times the vote of old Green Party (which in the eyes of the environmental community presented environmental issues in a very narrow and ineffective way).
It also didn’t help that so many traditionally ideological voters panicked and voted Kadima – a party devoid of any ideology and which exists, in my opinion, only to assure seats in the government for its members. These voters feared Netanyahu and Leiberman more than they believed in promoting their own values.
And it didn’t help that Hamas ignited another armed confrontation in the south, which once again wiped away the possibility of focusing on a strong domestic policy agenda. We’ll have to address each of these issues in the coming months and think how we can overcome each challenge.
In the end of the day, we have a platform – focusing on education, environment, health care, social and economic equity, grassroots democracy, pluralism and tolerance – that most of the electorate can relate too.
Our merger with Meimad strengthened each of these issues, as well as adding the important component of progressive Jewish values.
Meimad’s Rabbi Michael Melchior is one of several green legislators that will not be returning to the next Knesset. What is the outlook for the environmental lobby in the Knesset without them, especially presuming a strong shift to the right?
Rabbi Melchior was considered by many as one of the finest legislators in Knesset – not just on environmental issues, but also on social and education issues. His is a true loss to our parliament. That said, in the past, many excellent environmental legislators came from the right side of the spectrum (Yuri Shtern z”l, Lea Ness, Moshe Gafni, even our own Yosef Tamir originally came from Likud) – perhaps more than came from the left – so, this is not a left-right issue.
So, I think there will still be an active environmental lobby. That said, with the exception of Dov Khenin of Hadash, most Knesset members are environmentalists in the narrow sense – they can identify environmental problems and would support economic or technical measures to address them, but they won’t likely address the core socio-economic issues that give rise to environmental problems. These include economic disparities, values and education, funding priorities, respect of place and of fellow humans. Rabbi Melchior understands the systemic problems, as does the Green Movement.
It is our job now to fine tune our issues, organize our chapters, recruit members and perfect how we deliver our message to the Israeli electorate.