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108 scientists back environmental activist Alon Tal for KKL-JNF chair

Signatories, from all major centers of academia in Israel, say body needs a professional at helm, not a political appointee

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: Enjoying a walk in a KKL JNF Jewish National fund forest outside Jerusalem, April 21, 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90).
Illustrative: Enjoying a walk in a KKL JNF Jewish National fund forest outside Jerusalem, April 21, 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90).

An Israel Prize winner and former chief scientists of the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Nature and Parks Authority are among 108 ecologists, environmental scientists, sociologists, political scientists, environmental health experts and others who have signed a statement supporting the candidacy of Professor Alon Tal for the chairmanship of the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, to be decided in October.

“In this tense period of economic uncertainty, environmental degradation, social instability and political fragmentation, KKL-JNF needs a chairperson selected for their professional and managerial skills, rather than a political appointment,” the statement says.

Tal “has the leadership and vision to transform Israel, via KKL-JNF, into the international leader in sustainability that it could be.”

The list, which features signatories from all of Israel’s major academic institutions and was assembled within just 48 hours, includes former Environment Protection Ministry chief scientist Sinaia Netanyahu, former INPA chief scientist Prof. Avi Perevolotsky, an expert in ecosystem management, nature conservation and ecological forestry, and Prof. Dan Yakir of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who last year received the Israel Prize for his work on the impact of semi-arid forests on the global climate.

KKL, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for 13 percent of the land in the country, the management of which is carried out by the Israel Lands Authority. Officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, it works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development.

Prof Alon Tal pictured standing above the Bokek stream near the Dead Sea. (Courtesy, Alon Tal)

In his long career as an environmental activist and academic, Tal, who immigrated to Israel from the US 40 years ago, founded the legal advocacy nonprofit Adam Teva V’Din and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel, and has chaired the organization Life and Environment.

He has led KKL’s subcommittee on sustainability, which in 2005 drafted new policies for the organization’s forestry, reservoirs and streams restoration program. And he spent more than a decade, from 2006, chairing its Land Development Committee. In 2008 he received the Environment Ministry’s lifetime achievement award in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Current world chairman of the KKL-Jewish National Fund Danny Atar, photographed on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Whether his environmental credentials will sway the vote remains to be seen, however. The chairmanship of KKL, as well as of the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and World Zionist Organization, is usually a political appointment divvied up according to political considerations — not necessarily related to experience — during negotiations between the political parties and religious streams represented at the World Zionist Congress in the run-up to its conference held every five years. This year, the confab is set for October 20-22.

The current KKL chairman is Labor party appointee Danny Atar, who is campaigning for a second term.

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