04/20/2012 01:37
Move made in effort to make one stronger green party that can compete in elections out of two competing factions.

In an effort to secure stronger political clout on both national and local levels, most Green Party city council members are splitting from their organization to officially join the Green Movement on Friday.

“For a variety of arcane historical reasons, two competing green parties emerged in Israel,” Green Movement co-chairman Prof. Alon Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“This duplication is not only tactically disastrous, but it is substantively unjustified.”

On Friday morning, at a meeting in Tel Aviv, the majority of Green Party members serving on city councils – roughly 85 percent to 90% of them – will leave their organization to join the Green Movement, according to Hadas Shaknai, a Green Party member who served on the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council for 10 years. There are about 45 Green Party members serving on city councils throughout the country, she said.

“It’s something that we should have done years ago, and it’s an obvious way to reach the election,” Shaknai told the Post on Thursday.

“When parties join together, they become stronger.”

She would not share her opinions about the reasons for the split in the Green Party, but said that she was no longer connected with the organization in which she used to serve as secretary-general, and that she was taking city council representatives from 20 municipalities with her. Council members from Nahariya, Kiryat Ata, Nesher, Hadera, Ramat Hasharon, Hod Hasharon, Netanya, Modi’in, Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Ono, Pardesiya and a few others will be joining her, she confirmed.

Pe’er Visner, the former longtime chairman of the Green Party, told the Post that those leaving to join the Green Movement had had no real connection with his party for some time, and that they certainly did not comprise 85% of its city council members.

But Tal said that “the party is in shambles” and that this was in part due to the fact that Visner “ran it as a dictator.”

Tal said that when the Green Movement approached Visner and proposed a merger before the 2009 elections, Visner refused to institute a democratic process for selecting a joint party chairman.

Dror Ezra, a member of the Herzliya City Council, is now head of the Green Party, which Tal said would have very few council members left on Friday.

“Dror Ezra is very committed to the environment,” Tal said. “I call on him to join the 85% – to be part of one single unit.”

Ezra said that the Green Movement had made the same announcement several times, and that he had no idea how many people had left the Green Party, as he had not received any resignation letters.

“We don’t force anybody to be in our party,” Ezra told the Post. “I personally don’t pursue politicians from other parties. I think that it’s not moral behavior in a political system, nor is it green behavior.”

He said that before the 2009 elections, his party invited Green Movement members to join his organization, but they refused.

“They threatened us, [saying] that if you don’t give us your party, we will destroy you,” Ezra said. “And this is what they did.”

Meanwhile, he charged that the Green Movement had posted a video online about corruption within the Green Party.

“They waged a war because we didn’t surrender to their blackmail,” he said.

He and his fellow Green Party members are just “regular people,” while Green Movement members are largely academics who began a sort of tribal battle against them, according to Ezra.

To these allegations, Tal responded that Shaknai and the representatives from 20 city councils had approached his party about becoming one movement.

“[Ezra] has a role to play and we have to learn from the lessons of the past and move forward,” Tal said. “I salute his environmentalism and don’t feel that there is enough room in this country for more than one green party.”

He called on Ezra “to join the rest of his colleagues and the Green Movement as a single, unified, democratic green party for the good of Israel and the environment.”

Tal founded the Green Movement alongside Eran Ben-Yemini in late 2008 as “an environmental and social political party uniting activists, founders of environmental organizations, city council members and academics, philosophers and scientists,” according to the party’s mission statement. Now co-chaired by Tal and Racheli Tidhar-Caner, the movement relies on a Council of Experts – professionals in science, environment, society, education and planning – to make policy decisions.

The Green Movement ran on a joint list with the Meimad party for the 18th Knesset elections in 2009, but was unable to win a seat.

According to the movement’s representatives, the latest election polls show that it would win three Knesset seats in the next election.

The Green Party, historically known as “the Greens,” was founded in 1997 after the collapse of the bridge at the Maccabiah Games opening ceremony, according to its mission statement, with the logic of, “Why invest in a bridge that we will dismantle tomorrow?” During the municipal elections of 1998, Visner and Shaknai’s party won seats on the Tel Aviv- Jaffa City Council. The 2003 municipal elections showed an increase in Green Party representation, with the Greens and other environmentally friendly parties submitting lists for 14 municipal council elections.

They now have representatives in councils all over the country.

Nationally, while the Greens have never won a Knesset seat, they received more than 13,000 votes in 1999, 13,000 votes in 2003, 48,000 votes in 2006 and around 12,000 votes in 2009.

“I am delighted that the voices of reason and moderation prevailed and that we now have an agreement in place that will allow the Green Movement to take its place as a major political player in the national and local governments,” said Tal, who is also a professor at Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research.

“A party that prioritizes quality of life, equality, justice and preserving our resources for future generations is actually the best expression of Zionism for the next century,” he said.

The combined organization intends to hold internal elections in September, and Tal said he expected the Green Movement to end up the largest party locally after the 2013 local municipal elections, making use of the infrastructure that the former Greens already have solidly in place.

“This is a revolution in terms of green policy,” Tal said, adding that other parties had expressed interest in future cooperation nationally.

The success of green parties in Europe can certainly be replicated in Israel, he asserted. In Germany, where the green party transformation began, there are already state governors from the country’s Green Party, he said.

“The political map in Europe has undergone a total transition, with Green Parties now filling a key role in parliaments and governments across the continent,” Tal said. “But at the local level, green politicians are seizing the reins of power and introducing an agenda of sustainability.”

He is confident that the new Green Movement, acting together, will make a strong impact on the country’s political future.

“The political mosaic in Israel is starting to change. The fact that so many citizens voted green in local and national elections means that there is a generational shift in priorities and that the tired political Right-Left rhetoric of the old parties is increasingly irrelevant,” he said. “At the Friday convention, a united Green Movement opens its local and national campaign with a strong national presence and an agenda for improving the lives of all Israelis.”