February 24, 2004
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) has, as one of the core elements of its mission, support for the safety and well being of Israel from any and all threats which endanger its citizens. One such threat, which for far too long has gone overlooked, is the increasingly dire status of Israel’s natural environment. Of particular concern is the growing problem of air pollution. In the last year alone, there were approximately 1,100 air pollution related deaths in the greater Tel Aviv region. Other crucial environmental challenges facing Israel include:
- Widespread pollution of drinking water sources;
- Destruction of fragile coastal ecosystems due to sprawl;
- Growing demand for energy falling far short of current supply;
- Unregulated emissions of toxic industrial wastes.
The mitzvah of Pikuah nefesh, the preservation of human life, does not differentiate between those whose lives are threatened by violence and those who suffer from environmental degradation. In both cases we must consider it our highest priority to ensure the health and safety of those who are in danger.
In 1991, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of the Environment of Israel signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) concerning cooperation in the field of environmental protection. It was under the auspices of this MOU that the Tel Aviv region air pollution study was conducted. This much needed agreement formalized the framework for U.S./Israeli environmental collaboration, and for the first time allowed American scientific expertise and resources to be applied to Israel’s many environmental challenges. Unfortunately, this MOU was created as an unfunded mandate, a fact that has severely limited the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the original document.
The JCPA believes that:
- Pollution and the depletion of natural resources in Israel threaten public health, future economic viability, and regional stability.
- The Jewish tradition, informed by primary Jewish sources and by contemporary Jewish insights, includes a mandate to cultivate, protect and nurture the environment.
- The organized Jewish community has an opportunity to help Israel benefit from the substantial environmental expertise of the United States — through continued support and further development of cooperative projects between the Israeli and United States governments.
Faced with these threats to the health and well being of Israel’s population, and in the spirit of friendship and mutual benefit that has long characterized the relationship between the United States and Israel:
The JCPA Therefore Resolves to:
- Support the passage of legislation in Congress which would allocate previously undesignated funding for the implementation of the U.S./Israel MOU on environmental cooperation.
- Educate the Jewish community about the severity and urgency of the environmental crisis in Israel and urge our members to make tackling this issue a priority in the upcoming year.
- Work in coalition with both faith-based and environmental organizations to help bring American expertise and resources to bear on the environmental problems in Israel.
- Encourage JCPA agencies and communities to aid in the search for research grants that address these issues.