October 7, 2008

Greens See Israel’s Shades of Gray. Environmental Delegation Gets to Take a Deeper Look at This Country’s Complexities


What do environmentalists talk about on the bus during a mission to Israel? Shades of gray - whether lobbyists for companies are really the devil's spawn, or just people doing their job.

Although environmentalists have a reputation for unequivocal opinions, in actuality they are among the best at appreciating the degrees of right and wrong and the political processes that are an integral part of life. Environmentalists are quick to champion a method, but also quick to see its negative side effects.

Shades of gray - that's what the group of environmentalists from Europe, government officials, journalists, lobbyists, activists and NGO officials received during a recent weeklong mission to Israel. For many, this was their first visit to Israel and thus the first time they saw, up close, the complexities of life that don't usually appear on CNN or the BBC.

Splitting their time almost equally between environmental sites and more traditional mission sites like Jerusalem, the northern border, an absorption center and more, the American Jewish Committee (AJC)'s Project Interchange brought them here for a taste of Israel.

Bringing those involved in environmental issues was a first for Project Interchange, Cathy Bezozo, director of foundation relations for the AJC, said. Until now, Project Interchange has focused on politicians, religious figures and academics, and has brought 4,000 leaders to Israel since 1982, she said.

Bezozo and Ami Greener, the AJC's energy specialist, accompanied the group throughout the week, providing additional information, both environmental and Jewish.

The Jerusalem Post caught up with them midway through their trip for a morning excursion to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and the Ormat Company's plant in Yavne. The dominant language of the group was clearly German - half of the 12 were from Germany and Austria.

While some were clearly interested in getting a firsthand look at Israel for professional reasons, others had indulged a personal interest in the region by hopping on board.

Greenpeace Mediterranean's brand new project director, Stephanie Hillman, came to check out one of the countries in her region of responsibility. Just five weeks into the job, Hillman told the Post she hoped to get Greenpeace staff in individual countries to work on regional issues together such as climate change and water.

Sonja Van Renssen, a Brussels-based journalist for ENDS Europe, an EU environmental policy news and analysis service, gave up her vacation to experience the region firsthand for the first time. She was struck by how different life was here from what she had expected based on following events in the media.

"There are many people just living [a] normal life," she said, while at the same time there are some really unusual events taking place.

Irish World Bank official Edward Cameron was following up an academic interest in the Near East. Cameron is creating the World Bank's first human rights and climate change program. His basic theory, he explained, is that climate change is a serious threat that is usurping basic human rights. He hopes to put a human perspective on the sometimes hard-to-relate-to concept of climate change.

Prior to joining the World Bank, Cameron said, he worked as a consultant to the Maldives, an island nation off of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. With most islands just a meter to a two meters above sea level, rising seas could wipe them off the map in less than 100 years, he said, so climate change is of much more than passing concern to the tiny Muslim nation of 300,000.

With a lot of new knowledge crammed in over the course of a week, perhaps the next time they come across Israel- related issues in their professional or personal spheres these experts will appreciate the shades of gray more.

Originally published by EHUD ZION WALDOKS.

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