Far-right Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin launched an unprecedented attack on environmental activists on Tuesday, January 7, accusing them of being ignorant charlatans who are trying to mislead the public. Elkin was speaking at the Israel 2050 conference in Tel Aviv, which focused on anticipated environmental developments in the coming decades. Government ministries, gas companies and law firms sponsored it.
Elkin, a leading member of the Likud, devoted his entire address to attacking environmental groups, stunning many of the conference participants and drawing angry responses from green organizations.
Elkin took to task the legal advocacy organization Adam, Teva V’Din (Man, Nature and Law) – the Israel Union for Environmental Defense – for seeking a High Court order requiring deposits on large bottles to encourage recycling. Currently deposits are only required on bottles smaller than 1.5 liters. Expanding the deposit policy to include larger bottles would do little to increase recycling, but would harm the public, the environment minister claimed.
Atty. Amit Bracha, director of Adam Teva V’Din, challenged the minister directly at the conference and later called Elkin’s comments “unworthy.” “We suggest that the minister deal more with his role as leader of environmental issues in Israel and less with outrageous and irrelevant attacks against environmental organizations, which work day and night for the Israeli public,” he said. “The minister called environmental groups charlatans,” Bracha noted, “when just recently, the High Court issued a show-cause order requiring him to explain why he hasn’t applied the deposit law to large bottles. Perhaps he also views the court as a charlatan.”
The minister, who, in environmental circles is widely viewed as lacking interest in the subject and doing little to advance it, singled out by name Zalul (“clear” in Hebrew; an environmental organization with the goal of protecting Israel’s seas and streams), complaining that the organization has popped up in different campaigns — one time against the Leviathan offshore natural gas drilling — and another against a controversial Haifa Bay ammonia storage tank held by the American Trump family, which the Ministry of Environmental Protection finally closed in September 2017.
An American corporation, Noble Energy, recently started production of natural gas from the huge Leviathan offshore project, achieving a major milestone for a discovery made nearly a decade ago. The Leviathan startup by the Houston oil and gas producer puts Israel on the path of becoming a natural gas exporter after decades of relying on energy imports and coal-fired electricity. Leviathan is the largest known natural gas field in the growing Eastern Mediterranean region that’s attracting other top oil and gas players, including the Texas energy major Exxon Mobil.
Zalul responded to Minister Elkin’s attack by charging that there was a “huge leadership vacuum” at the head of the ministry, which “is supposed to deal with one of the biggest challenges facing humanity – climate change. Elkin decided once again to stand on the side of a polluting industry and to accuse environmental organizations of failures, all of which have only his own name on them.”