by David Krantz
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, it’s customary for us to take stock — What have we done wrong? What could we be doing better? — but Rosh Hashanah is also a time to look back and consider the many ways we have been blessed. This Elul, as his time in Knesset likely (and unfortunately) comes to a close, we are particularly grateful to Aytzim cofounder and Knesset member Dr. Alon Tal, Israel’s leading environmentalist, for all he has done to improve the well-being of Israel’s land, plants, people and non-human animals.
Aside from co-founding Aytzim in 2001, Tal also has founded or co-founded a slew of other environmental initiatives, including and not limited to Adam Teva V’Din (the Israel Union for Environmental Defense), the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Ecopeace: Friends of the Earth–Middle East, and Israel’s largest green party, HaMiflaga HaYeruka (formerly the Green Movement). No one else has had a greater impact than Tal on Israel’s landscape of environmental organizations.
As a co-founder of Aytzim and member of Aytzim’s board, Tal served as one of Aytzim’s representatives to the board of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (Jewish National Fund in Israel), helping to green KKL-JNF from the inside out. Along with Dr. Orr Karassin and Dr. Eilon Schwartz, Tal was responsible for leading Aytzim’s biggest efforts to green Israel, resulting in quadrupling the number of trees planted annually, changing the types of trees planted so that they would be suitable for Israel’s arid and semi-arid climate zones, and supporting bicycling by building and expanding bike trails, including trails circumnavigating the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and running across the country.
As an academic — at Ben-Gurion University and at Tel Aviv University, among others — Tal literally wrote the book on Israel’s environmental history. “Pollution in a Promised Land” is a must-read primer for anyone interested in Israel’s environment. His many other books and papers have all helped push sustainability issues toward the top of an Israeli agenda typically dominated by concerns about the economy and “the situation,” Israel’s euphemism for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
As the second-ever member of HaYeruka to join the Knesset, Tal has been a steadfast voice for sustainability in Israel. From helping establish parliamentary subcommittees and caucuses addressing climate, health and the environment — including caucuses to protect the Jerusalem Forest and to clean up Haifa Bay — to proposing about two dozen laws to support sustainability in Israel, to issuing more than 70 oversight queries to ministries to help ensure environmental laws are followed properly, Tal has been the most ardent sustainability advocate to ever walk the halls of Knesset.
Although it is unlikely that Tal will return to Knesset — his low placement on the Benny Gantz-led Blue and White-New Hope list, revealed this week, means that it would take a miracle for Blue and White to receive enough votes for Tal to maintain his seat after elections in November — everyone who cares about Israel and its land and people owe a debt to Tal for his work. I would expect Tal to continue his lifelong work of greening Israel after leaving Knesset, but this Elul is an apt time to express gratitude: Thank you Alon!
David Krantz is the President of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.