Israel Not Ready for Green Message – Yet

New environmental-Jewish party did not win enough votes for Knesset representation but is encouraged for the future

Editor’s Note: Ariel Picard’s office at Shalom Hartman Institute is lined with classical Jewish texts, academic tomes in Hebrew and English, scholarly journals, and even a French-Hebrew dictionary: a typical office of a rabbi, scholar, and Ph.D. But there is something else in the office, as well. On the floor, leaning against a wall, is a large poster of a baby. The slogan next to the baby says, in Hebrew: If he could vote… Green Movement-Meimad .

 
Picard, Director of the Institute’s Center for Education, was one of the prime movers behind the new Green Movement-Meimad Party, which put itself forward in this week’s Knesset elections. The party, formed late last year, and with a short campaign season, garnered more than 27,000 votes, not enough to win seats in the Knesset.
 
In the following comments, Picard talks about how the party was formed, what it stands for, why it didn’t receive as many votes as the party had hoped or expected, and also how it is encouraged for the future of its vision of Israel as a environmentally aware, Jewish, and democratic state.
 
By Ariel Picard
 
I have been active in politics since 1988, from the beginning of the Meimad Party. I increased my involvement two years ago when I was part of a group that initiated the move of Meimad from being a religious party to a party that was a base for Israelis – Jews and Arabs, religious and non-religious – with a vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with the common idea of social justice.
 
The contacts between the Green movement and Meimad started a long time ago. Among his many activities in the Knesset, Rabbi Michael Melchior, Meimad chairman, has been co-chair of the Knesset’s environmental lobby for eight years.
 
People know him from his activities in the area of education – but he was also involved with environmental issues, which is how he met people like Alon Tal and Eran Benyemini, who are heads of environmental organizations and the founders of the Green movement. For him, this contact was natural. When these organizations decided to create a political party a few months ago, they started to talk with Melchior about forming a partnership.
 
For the Greens, the Jewish aspect and the emphasis on education we brought to the union was accepted naturally. It was as if both of us were just waiting for this partnership.
 
It’s all built on tikkun olam. In the Jewish tradition tikkun olam includes two aspects – one aspect is the aspect of tikkun – to repair.
 
The other aspect, which cannot be translated directly into English, is that tikkun is not only repairing, but also making it more useful. Take raw material and make it useful for humanity – using wheat to make bread is a kind of tikkun. There is a tension between them – the tension is create versus don’t touch. But you must find the balance.
 
That’s the Jewish idea, based on tikkun olam’s double meaning, which they absorbed naturally. That’s where we clicked. We came out with a very important message – a "large" green message that includes caring for the society, for education, for the Earth, for the environment, and for Jewish identity.
 
People thought it was a good idea. We quickly picked up a lot of support. Ehud Banai, who is a serious artist, not a pop star, someone who is Jewish and deep, but open to the world, supported us publicly.
 
The media loved us. We were able to get our message out. We got a good response – but not many votes. Now why did that happen?
 
The answer is that, although we don’t want to think it is the situation, most Israelis have the feeling we are in a war – a continuous war. Other issues, important as they are – like education, the environment, social problems – are secondary.
 
We believe that these issues are part of the security of Israel. It doesn’t matter how many tanks we have if our educational system is lousy, that social solidarity is bad.
 
But we came to understand that this is not what most of the population thinks. People were supportive of our goals, but decided when they were behind the curtain in the election booth that it was more important to vote for the issues above – who will govern, what our foreign policy will be, what the future of the settlements will be. We are still in that discussion, and that is what influenced the majority of Israeli voters.
 
The campaign was a good experience. I met and got to know people I didn’t know before. I was fascinated by their vision, their views, and their commitment to ideas. Partnerships developed among people who are religious and not religious, Jews from different denominations, Israelis and Arabs. We found a common language.
 
I’m not angry or frustrated. We had great hopes and prayers, But I also understand we shouldn’t give up.
 
This idea had impact, and we will continue, but maybe in different ways. The political system in Israel is changing, and for sure it will be bad for small parties. It is a problem for Israel to have so many small parties. But those are the rules, and so that is the game we played. We will have to find a way to have political influence through bigger parties.
 
I think the larger Green and tikkun olam issues raised through our work and that of others are moving to the forefront of the agenda. We did something. It’s not lost.
 
I think we were premature. We are the party of the next 20 years, as the baby in our poster showed: this baby will vote for our goals when he is able to vote in 18 years.

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