Israel Environment Bulletin Autumn 1992-5753, Vol. 15, No. 4

PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A major indicator of the dramatic increase in environmental awareness in Israel has been the gradual incorporation of environmental issues into the agenda of Israel’s veteran public service organizations. The Histadrut General Federation of Labor in Israel, the country’s largest trade union and volunteer organization, is now promoting environmental protection through its consumer authority and women’s organization. Similarly, women’s organizations and volunteer centers throughout the country are placing far greater emphasis on environmental concerns.

At the Histadrut

A notable example of the introduction of environmental concerns into existing public organizations is the case of the Histadrut Consumer and Environmental Protection Authority (HCEPA). A 1988 decision by the International Organization of Consumer Unions to devote International Consumer Day to the theme of the consumer and environmental quality, precipitated a Histadrut decision to change the name of its consumer authority into the Consumer and Environmental Protection Authority. The name change went far beyond semantics alone; it catalyzed an entire gamut of changes in the approach of the Authority to environmental involvement.

Following are some of the activities in which the HCEPA was involved in the past few years:

  • organization of Earth Day celebrations in Israel, in cooperation with other environmental bodies;
  • sponsorship of environmental seminars, workshops and tours for hundreds of volunteers;
  • implementation of a "personal commitment" volunteer program in Israeli high schools, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, to expose students to environmental lectures and tours in addition to practical field work;
  • preparation, implementation and publication of surveys ranging in content from local issues such as cleanliness in neighborhood supermarkets and restaurants to national issues such as the presence of asbestos in drinking water, radioactive levels in hospital sewage and the discharge of domestic and industrial sewage;
  • publication of brochures and information sheets on the environment, containing both theoretical and practical information on a wide variety of environmental subjects including pesticide residues in food products, home water purifiers, environmentally- friendly products, noise, food irradiation, electromagnetic radiation, recycling, radon, and others.
  • identification and treatment of environmental nuisances;
  • participation in Knesset committee deliberations, especially with regard to new laws and regulations on noise levels, pesticides, sewage, etc.

    In conjunction with the HCEPA, Na’amat, the working and volunteer women’s movement of the Histadrut, has initiated its own consciousness-raising campaign with the aid of its extensive network of volunteers, associated with 100 branches throughout the country. In 1992, Na’amat ran a series of environmental workshops and tours for nearly 150 of its coordinators and volunteers; plans are now being finalized for the expansion of the education program to other areas of the country, including the Arabic and Druse sectors. In the coming year, Na’amat will focus special attention on recycling and proper disposal of used batteries. A series of lectures on recycling, accompanied by audio-visual presentations, will be offered and a battery-collection campaign will be launched. Na’amat branches throughout the country will serve as collection points for used batteries which will then be transferred for proper disposal to the Ramat Hovav hazardous waste center.

    Volunteer Organizations Join the Bandwagon

    The successful experience of the HCEPA in working with thousands of volunteers in the area of consumer and environmental protection was one of the factors leading to the establishment of a new volunteer forum on environmental quality. In 1989, Mrs. Nuzhat Katzav, chairwoman of the HCEPA, was elected to head a newly-created Forum of Organizations on Quality of Life and the Environment, within the framework of the Israel Volunteer Center. The forum, including more than 50 organizations, meets regularly to coordinate activities and priorities including the organization of workshops, seminars and national campaigns. Members of the forum are free to pursue their individual goals, but organizations frequently opt to work together to promote environmental projects which are of interest to the general public.

    Rotary International provides an excellent example of the individual and collective work undertaken by volunteer organizations on behalf of the environment. As in the case of many other public organizations, the Israel District of Rotary International, numbering 2,000 members, formed its own environmental protection committee following a call by the World President of Rotary International to "Preserve Planet Earth." The committee was quick to draft an action plan for the implementation of environmental projects within the framework of Rotary clubs and the general community. Each club was urged to adopt and maintain one of the public gardens in its community and Rotary members were called upon to promote cleanliness, gardening, and a variety of environmental competitions, especially within the school system.

    Yet, in addition to Rotary’s advancement of environmental goals within the community, the organization has elected to work along with other environmental bodies to increase public awareness and involvement in national environmental issues as well. In fact, Rotary’s most successful campaign was undertaken in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment, the environmental umbrella organization Life and Environment, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Organization for Better Housing. The campaign, dubbed Quality of Life and the Environment Month in Local Authorities, was launched in three municipalitiesHerzliya, Bat Yam and Petah Tikvain 1991. During the course of the campaign, volunteers distributed information material to the general public and recruited cleanliness trustees to join the struggle on behalf of a cleaner Israel.

    The Role of Women’s Organizations

    Israel’s volunteer women’s organizations have long stood at the vanguard of environmental activism in Israel, both individually and collectively. During the course of Environment Week, celebrated in Israel during the week of May 26th, WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, surprised passers-by along David Hamelech Boulevard in Tel Aviv (where WIZO House is located) with a consciousness-raising "recycled Statues on the Boulevard" environmental happening. An array of life-size papier-mache figures and huge balls symbolizing the planet earthcreated by students in WIZO’s vocational schools from tons of newspaper, cardboard cartons and plastic bottles supplied by Amnir Recycling Industriesfocused public attention on the importance of recycling and reuse.

    Alongside WIZO, with its 140 active branches, other women’s organizations are taking an active part in promoting environmental activities. One such group, Hadassah Israel, has been utilizing its 15 chapters and 1,800 volunteers to implement a national program in which environmental components play a major role. Last year, the organization sponsored a national seminar on recycling, reuse and recovery in Jerusalem; this year additional eco-seminars are planned in other areas of the country. Hadassah’s action plan encompasses a no-smoking campaign and the promotion of the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities project as well as anti- litter, recycling and water conservation campaigns.

    Hadassah is promoting an outreach, hands-on approach to reach members of each community; the idea is to change the mind-set and habits of people by means of a simple list of do’s and don’ts for environmental protection. For example, Hadassah’s solid waste and recycling campaign, dubbed 1-2-3, calls on each citizen to undertake three simple steps before discarding trash: compress tin cans, flatten boxes and separate the metal cap from plastic bottles ("and we’re topless"). The "every drop counts" water conservation campaign urges homeowners to turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth and to collect running water in a bucket while waiting for it to heat up.

    Hadassah’s credo, "initiate where there is a need; cooperate and coordinate but don’t duplicate" has been adopted by several of the volunteer organizations in Israel. Partially in response to the environmental plan of action formulated by the International Council of Women in the 1991 Bangkok Conference but mostly in response to growing public awareness in Israel, the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel has set up its own environmental committee, composed of WIZO, Na’amat, Emunah, Hadassah, Academic Women and Bnai Brith Women. Each of these organizations will continue to play its own part in environmental improvement, but collectively, the organizations hope to multiply their efficacy in instilling a new environmental ethic in Israeli citizens everywhere.

    These and other public organizations intend to turn their volunteers into Israel’s environmental torchbearers, leading the way to a better quality of life and the environment for each and every one of Israel’s citizens.