The following is a response to the profile of Jesse Fox that we posted yesterday. We will be posting interviews all week with Jewish Israelis discussing their connection to the idea of Zionism in the hope of sparking a conversation over the what Zionism means today.
My wife and I were active in the Israeli environmental movement for many years. I know FoEMe, and they’re a good group. I’m not familiar with Ir Lekulanu (we were Jerusalemites, and have been out of the country for a while), but it sounds like they are also doing good work. The fight against developers, gentrification and the process of suburbanisation that has destroyed the Israeli landscape – with grave environmental and social ramifications – is a good fight. Apart from the usual arguments against environmental activism (progress, jobs, etc.), Israeli environmentalists have always had to contend with the popular notion that environmental battles are a "luxury" for spoiled "Tzfonim" ("Northerners" – referring to the liberal, moneyed-elite of North Tel-Aviv), at a time when the country is "besieged by brutal enemies and struggling for its very survival". We fought that particular argument tooth and nail, arguing that all of the "national" and "security" battles are pointless, if the land itself is rendered uninhabitable. Many in the movement argued that the "red-green" combination – particularly in terms of the conflict with the Palestinians – was divisive, and environmentalism should be "apolitical". You seem to understand that environmentalism is not just about this or that wildflower or nature reserve, and that it is an issue that can’t wait any longer.
Reading your interview/profile however – assuming it is a faithful reflection of your beliefs and your activism – I do feel the need to point out "more important issues", not because the environment is not important, or a "luxury" for "spoiled western olim" (I’ve heard that too), but because you are living only a few kilometres from Gaza, the scene of ongoing crimes against humanity (including grave environmental crimes), perpetrated by the very society in which you live and which you are striving to improve. You refer to "sustainability in a Zionist context". Sustainable for whom? Your vision of a Middle East of co-existence and respect for the environment is admirable, but people in Gaza are dying now. You may also be a peace and human rights activist. Many Israeli environmentalists are. But don’t you think the fundamental human rights of the people of Gaza (I repeat, only a few kilometres from Tel-Aviv) also deserve a place in your credo?
Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel is a 43-year-old Canadian-born, Israeli-raised translator, living in Rome, Italy.