How Did the Developer Stop the Green Activist? He Hired a PI

Zafrir Rinat

Anything you say can be used against you - if you're an environmental activist whose words were recorded without your knowledge. Recently, the developer of a proposed community in the Judean Hills hired a private investigator, who recorded the remarks of an environmental activist opposed to the project. The developer, Jake Liebowitz, requested on the basis of the remarks that the activist be disqualified from participating in a planning committee hearing on the community, which took place yesterday.

Liebowitz is promoting a project to build a community called Eden Hills, south of Beit Shemesh. Eden Hills, whose construction was approved by the government, is defined as an ecological community where energy and water will be used efficiently and no cars will be allowed. However, green organizations say this project will harm ecologically important areas. Avraham Shaked, an activist with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), heads opposition to the project. He is also a member of the Interior Ministry preservation committee that evaluated the proposal yesterday.

Six months ago, Liebowitz contacted the SPNI through attorney Yoel Silver to request an apology for remarks attributed to Shaked in an article appearing in a local paper published in the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council. Among other things, Shaked was quoted as describing Liebowitz as "a real estate pimp." Silver claimed that Shaked's remarks constitute slander and threatened legal action against him and the SPNI.

The SPNI turned down the request, and according to attorney Ehud Green, also representing Liebowitz, his client was left with no choice but to hire a private investigator. The investigator came to Shaked's office two months ago and presented himself as a student preparing an academic paper on environmental problems. According to the transcript of the conversation he recorded, which Green presented, Shaked himself brought up the issue of Eden Hills and defined Liebowitz as a real estate pimp. He again sharply criticized the project and said he would continue to fight it and look into how Liebowitz won the building tender. Details of the private investigator's hiring were initially published in the local weekly Kol Ha'ir.

On the basis of this conversation, Green approached Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz and asked that Shaked be disqualified from taking part in yesterday's hearing in the Interior Ministry's committee for the preservation of agricultural lands and open spaces. He argued that a member of this committee should not decide the fate of the project if he is prejudiced against it. Shaked represents green organizations on the committee.

Attorney Green asked to disqualify other green organization representatives who might take part in the hearing instead of Shaked, arguing that they too have voiced heated opposition to the construction of the community. In addition, he turned to the registrar of nonprofit organizations and asked him to work to dismantle Adam Teva V'Din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED). He claimed that it was working against the environmental protection goals for which it was established by opposing an ecological community and that it was being anti-Zionist due to its opposition to every new community.

While trying to disqualify the public organizations, Liebowitz found himself up against a government body as well: the Nature Reserves and National Parks Authority, which attacked the plan for the Eden Hills. The head of the Nature Reserves's ecology department, Dr. Yehoshua Shakedi, offered his opinion on the new development's impact on the ecological corridor of the Judean plains, noting that due to the construction of the separation fence in the vicinity, the ecological corridor was significantly reduced. According to him, building the Eden Hills project on the remaining area of this corridor would severely damage short- and long-term nature protection in Israel.

"The man who wrote this opinion was enlisted by Shaked to serve the green organizations," said Green in response. "The Nature Reserves and National Parks Authority is not meant to write an opinion against a government decision. It forgot that it is a government agency and not a nonprofit organization."