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The Zionist Congress begins procedures this week to elect key figures in the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. For the professional politicians in the large parties, it is an opportunity to hand out loot in one of the last arenas where they still operate with practically no transparency, divvying up the main jobs among themselves. That's what the large parties have done until now ? top posts like agency or JNF chairman are delegated even before the actual vote takes place.

The composition of the JNF management has deep significance for the quality of life in Israel, and therefore the public has an interest in those elections, which usually do not attract much attention outside of political circles and Jewish organizations. The JNF is one of the bodies with the most influence over Israel's landscape and nature, and over how the country develops. It is responsible for more than a million dunams of forests, and through its budgets and professional manpower the JNF has enormous influence over the planning and construction of major projects like drainage, water reservoirs and river restoration. The JNF has representatives on the board of the Israel Lands Administration, and it can influence that body's decisions.

In recent years, Yehiel Leket has headed the JNF. He arrived at the job with a rich background in party politics and no experience in environmental affairs or nature conservation. His management of the organization's administration and manpower deserve a separate article, but in terms of environmental concern, he did largely meet his commitment to turn the JNF into a greener body. In recent years the JNF has taken a consistent stand against turning forests into developments, and it has increased its cooperation with environmental preservation bodies. The picture, of course, is not perfect: The JNF management has continued to support the building of new communities for demographic and ethnic reasons, and not based on the criteria of viable planning.

It is particularly important to the public interest that the JNF continue to be this green ? or more so ? in the coming years. For that purpose, it must adopt an environmental agenda such as the one that the representatives of the Jewish Conservative Movement have recently formulated in a series of principles.

According to those principles, the JNF would strengthen its commitment to forest preservation and river restoration. No less than 4 percent of its annual budget would be dedicated to restoring rivers, and the forestation budget would be increased. The JNF would also take steps to broaden public involvement in the development of lands under its oversight. Implementing such an agenda depends on the management, and hopefully the various party institutions and Jewish organizations will chose environmentally aware candidates for the senior position in the JNF. That means people like Dr. Alon Tal, founder of Israel Environmental Union ?(Adam Teva Vadin?), and now a member of the JNF board, where he represents the interests of the Reform and Conservative movements. Tal deserves a more senior role in the JNF, to enable to him to steer it in the proper environmental direction.

As for the chairman ? Labor could contribute by nominating Nahum Itzkovitz, now head of the Emek Hefer Regional Council. Itzkovitz is not an activist in an environmental group, but he recognizes the importance of the environment and has been active in the area through projects like the rehabilitation of Nahal Alexander, a project that involved cooperation with the Palestinians. He also largely managed to protect the open areas in his regional council, compared to what happened in other regional councils. If the Jewish nation is to be led by party pros of various types, let it at least be by people like Itzkovitz and not by other pols whose commitment to the environment is dubious, at best.