There’s no way to square the perpetuation of the occupation, racism and extremist religion with the fight against climate change. A solution can’t be found without a functioning democracy

An intersection on Route 431 south of Tel Aviv. When he was transportation minister, Likud's Yisrael Katz promoted highway interchanges, roads and car ownership.
An intersection on Route 431 south of Tel Aviv. When he was transportation minister, Likud’s Yisrael Katz promoted highway interchanges, roads and car ownership. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Yarden Michaeli Jan 1, 2023

Among the hundreds of clauses in the coalition agreements, with their many details promoting discrimination and harm to various groups, a whole section is devoted to the environment and climate; it has even won praise from three of the country’s main environmental groups.

But at best, these clauses betray a lack of understanding of the climate crisis and the tools required to address it. At worst, they’re designed to greenwash the racism and messianic aspirations of Israel’s most extremist government ever.

We can’t ignore that racism, the occupation and religion – the heart of the new government – are key factors in shaping the environment in Israel, and that there’s no real solution to the climate crisis, nor can there be without equality and a functioning democracy, the foundation for everything.

The coalition agreements’ environmental clauses state that a law on greenhouse gas emissions will raise the country’s emissions-reduction targets. They mention setting a date and funding for removing industry from Haifa Bay, and include steps to protect nature and legislation to protect the sea.

No doubt these are all important issues. But all this verbiage seems disconnected from Israel’s nonexistent environmental policy and the crowded, polluted and violent future that the new government’s agenda will cultivate.

During the Likud party‘s long period in power, it didn’t promote environmental protection and the fight against the climate crisis in any significant way. As the state comptroller put it, the situation during Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule ranged from “lagging behind to zero.”

Looking ahead, if Netanyahu cared about the struggle against the climate crisis, he wouldn’t have made Yisrael Katz energy minister – and he wouldn’t have subjected him to a rotation agreement. This is the same Katz who said that “gas is green,” and who as transportation minister promoted highway interchanges, roads and car ownership. He’s largely responsible for the pollution and the transportation crisis throughout Israel.

Bedouin protesting Israel's planting of trees in the Negev, January 2022.
Bedouin protesting Israel’s planting of trees in the Negev, January 2022.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Netanyahu wouldn’t have placed the Green Police – the Environmental Protection Ministry’s enforcement agency – under the authority of Itamar Ben-Gvir at the National Security Ministry, a step that raises concerns about how this agency will be used.

And Netanyahu certainly wouldn’t have placed the Environmental Protection Ministry in the hands of Idit Silman, who has never uttered a single significant opinion on the environment and whose greatest achievement has been helping to put Netanyahu back in power.

Especially dubious is the general statement to increase its emissions-reduction target to 50 percent of 2015 levels by the end of the decade. Saudi Arabia also set ambitious targets for the fight against the climate crisis, and the oil giants announced that they were committed to reducing pollutants. That’s the way it is when talk is cheap.

The promises in the agreements might be kept, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but the burden of proof is on Netanyahu. For a start, if the environment is so important to the new government, why abrogate the law taxing disposable dishware, ensuring that Israel continues to send huge amounts of plastic into the environment?

The new government’s main guidelines – perpetuating the occupation and deepening the ultra-Orthodox autonomy – don’t allow for a solution to the climate crisis. The strengthening of Jewish control and influence over the Palestinians is a key factor in shaping planning in both Israel and the territories it controls – and it looks like this is about to get worse. The racist planning policy leads to reckless behavior by both Israelis and Palestinians. Across the country, tree-planting is designed to keep Arabs off the land. New communities are being established to strengthen Jewish control, wastefully using land without logical planning.

The new environmental protection minister, Idit Silman.  She has never uttered a single significant opinion on the environment
The new environmental protection minister, Idit Silman. She has never uttered a single significant opinion on the environment.
Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Also, public transportation remains outdated and neglected because it operates according to the Shabbat laws and will continue to do so. Encouragement of extremely high birthrates is leading to a population explosion and an infrastructure crisis, and this government’s capitalist logic is known worldwide as a key factor in damaging the environment.

And all this comes before mentioning the enormous resources that a fight against the climate crisis entails; they aren’t even mentioned in passing in the coalition agreements – compared to the funding allotted to strengthening Jewish identity.

The government declared that it would advance environmental issues, but you can’t conduct a discussion on the environmental and climate crisis while crushing democratic institutions. A true effort to fight the crisis will include components that this government is directly attacking such as science- and fact-based education, a strong justice system that can rein in polluters, apolitical decisions at state agencies, a vibrant media that can explain facts to the public, and the strengthening of the status of women.

For example, a high-profile international project seeking solutions for the climate crisis lists family planning and access to quality education as key steps in the process.

It’s unclear whether the new government’s approach to the climate crisis is tainted with naivete, limited understanding, pretense or fraud. But even if this is the best-case scenario, the notion that the climate crisis can be fought unconnected to any political issue or other problem is a mistake that echoes outdated concepts about the environment.

As environmentalists make clear around the world, protection of minorities, the weak and others under attack isn’t only the moral thing to do, it’s the way to build the political and civic foundations for addressing our enormous environmental challenges.