Not All Is Bad in the Knesset

The Knesset has a committed environmental lobby that it can be proud of.

The Knesset gone on its summer recess is accompanied, as usual, by uncomplimentary, albeit reasonably justified, descriptions of its members' caliber and the deterioration of their public norms. But not all is bad in this Knesset. It also has a green side that has created a broad environmental consensus.

In the past, there were Knesset members who engaged in environmental activity and set up the environmental legislative infrastructure of our times. But these were mainly individuals, like Yosef Tamir, who laid the foundations for environmental parliamentary activity some 35 years ago.

Today, the Knesset has a committed environmental lobby worthy of its name and a relatively large number of Knesset members who deal with environmental issues on an ongoing basis, rather than as a one-time project.

Lobbyists for the green organizations are also active in the Knesset, and its Commission for Future Generations is another means of promoting environmental consciousness.

The Knesset members' commitment is interesting, especially in view of the limited public appeal that environmental activity holds, despite its positive public image. It does not provide the instant political dividends that Knesset members usually covet. The reason for the MKs' interest in the issue derives to a large extent from their young age. They belong to a generation that has been exposed to the environmental awareness that has conquered the world in recent decades.

The result is an extensive barrage of parliamentary questions and motions for the agenda directed at the ministries, forcing them to explain their policy, make excuses for their shortcomings and even promise to take action to mend the situation. In addition, a number of Knesset committees have an especially loaded agenda of environmental debates.

MKs Yuri Stern and Leah Ness have dealt with dozens of environmental problems during their Knesset activity, as did Hemi Doron, Ilan Leibowitz, Roman Bronfman and Eitan Cabel. They promoted, among other issues, legislation for radiation protection, for increasing energy-consumption effectivity and to help build the Ayalon Park. MK Ahmed Tibi recently took action to promote animal rights.

One of the Knesset's last acts before taking its summer break was the approval of the freedom of information amendment initiated by Leah Ness, with the help of the environmental organizations. The amendment obliges a public authority to publish the environmental information at its disposal. The environment minister is to issue regulations defining this information.

The Knesset's environmental lobby is headed by MKs Omri Sharon and Michael Melchior. Sharon's public image is in a deep slump and he will have to answer many difficult questions regarding his partisan activity. But we cannot take away from him his consistent commitment to the environment. He recently helped promote the Clean Air Law that passed preliminary reading and is designed to improve the treatment of air pollution sources.

In a rare move, Sharon and MK Ronnie Bar-On even presented an objection to the plan to extend Jerusalem into open areas.

Of course, demagogic declarations on environmental issues are also made in the Knesset and quite a few superfluous bills are presented, mainly to glorify the Knesset members' names and portray them as enlightened legislators. Certain Knesset members avoid handling issues that would draw them into a confrontation with their party members, who, as ministers or mayors, create some of the environmental problems.

However, when politicians decide to deal with a forgotten and underprivileged sector in an attempt to delve into problems of waste and sewage, radiation and noise, they are doing exactly what they were sent to the Knesset for. It is to be hoped that they will increase this part of their activity. It is regrettable that the government is still very much behind the Knesset's environmental awareness and shows no intention of giving environment preservation its worthy place on the order of priorities.