Alon Tal

Alon Tal (Hebrew: אלון טל‎, born 12 July 1960) is a leading Israeli environmental activist and academic; founder of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense,[2] and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies;[3] and a co-founder of Ecopeace: Friends of the Earth, Middle East;[4] This is My Earth;[5] the Israel Forum for Demography, Environment and Society; Aytzim: Ecological Judaism;[6] and the Green Movement political party.[7] Tal was appointed chair of the department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University in 2017.

Tal was born on July 12, 1960, and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, as Albert Rosenthal.[8] He was active in the Young Judaea youth movement, served on its national executive board, and participated in its Israel program in 1977. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1980, he moved to Israel and enlisted in the Israeli army.[9][10] He changed his name to Alon Tal after making aliyah to Israel and becoming an Israeli citizen. He served in the Nahal paratrooper division and saw action in the 1982 First Lebanon War.[10] After his discharge, Tal attended Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem.[10] During his time at law school, Tal played saxophone and fiddle in the popular Jerusalem-based rock band, Liquid Plummer. In 1983 he began work as a legal intern in Israel's Environmental Protection Service (part of the Ministry of Interior) and subsequently clerked in the office of Israel's Attorney General, Yitzhak Zamir.[11] In 1986, Tal returned to the U.S. and enrolled in the Harvard School of Public Health, where he studied Environmental Science and Public Policy.[10] His doctoral dissertation, which was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, analyzed state strategies to control agricultural nonpoint source pollution.[11]

Tal returned to Israel in 1989 and settled at kibbutz Ketura with his wife Robyn.[10] In 1990, he founded the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, one of Israel's leading advocacy groups.[9] In this capacity, he initiated successful legal action to address a range of environmental hazards (for example, illegal sewage discharges and air and water pollution), repeatedly sued the government for inadequate implementation of environmental law, and provided free legal representation to numerous local environmental organizations. In 1995, the organization filed a highly publicized – but ultimately unsuccessful – petition to the Supreme Court to prevent the building of Highway 6.[12]

In 1996, Tal founded the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at kibbutz Ketura, an advanced academic program that brings together Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and international students.[13] In 1999, he was elected chairman of Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for Israel's environmental groups, which grew from 24 to 80 member groups during his five-year tenure.[14]

In 2001, Tal co-founded the , a New York-based nonprofit that would later become Aytzim: Ecological Judaism. Since then, Tal has served as one of the Green Zionist Alliance's Israeli representatives.[6]

Between 2012 and 2015 Tal served on the international board of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Israel's forestry and land reclamation agency, as an elected representative of the Green Zionist Alliance, in partnership with the Conservative Movement.[15] He was appointed chair of the JNF's subcommittee for sustainability, which in 2005 drafted new policies for the organization's forestry, reservoirs and stream restoration program. In 2006, Tal was appointed chair of the Land Development Committee, which oversees the JNF's forestry and land restoration work. Advocating a new sustainable agenda for the organization, he promoted, expanded funding for sustainable afforestation, bike trails and research.[16] In 2014 he launched an initiative to prioritize JNF financial support for environmental projects in Israel's Arab communities.

In 2007, Tal and Mohammad Said Al-Hmaida, former director of the Palestinian Ministry of Environment, prepared a “shadow treaty” for a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians,[17] which offered an ambitious vision of cooperation and coordinated management.[18] Tal also helped bring together 15 Israeli and 15 Palestinian water experts to consider specific areas of agreement and disagreements in regional water management, which was published in the 2010 book Water Wisdom.[18]

Tal won the Charles Bronfman Prize for young humanitarian leadership in 2006, and used the prize money to establish the Tal Fund, which supports grassroots Israeli environmental activism.[19][20] Tal received Israel's Environment Ministry's lifetime achievement award as a 48-year-old, in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary in 2008.[18]

In 2015, he joined Professor Uri Shanas as one of the founders of the "This is My Earth - TIME" initiative [21] an international effort to purchase biodiversity "hot spots" as conservation sanctuaries through crowd sourcing.[22]

Tal has remained active in a range of environmental advocacy initiatives, including preparation of proposed biodiversity protection legislation and involvement in public interest litigation. He was a plaintiff in the successful, 2014 class action suit following the massive oil spill in Israel's Ein Avrona nature reserve, that sought to cover the damage caused by negligence on the part of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company.[23] In March, 2018, along with colleagues in academia and attorney Tzvi Levinson, Tal filed another class action against polluting chemical factories located the Rotem planes, based on the massive contamination of the underlying groundwater and the resulting polluting of the pristine Boqeq stream in the Dead Sea region. At the time, it was the highest damages ever sought in an Israeli environmental civil action.[24]

Tal taught at the Tel Aviv University Law School from 1990 until 2004. In 2005 he joined the faculty of the Desert Research Institutes at Ben Gurion University. His research has focused on water policy, monitoring transboundary stream water quality, assessing the Israeli government's environmental enforcement program, evaluating national environmental education programs, forestry policy, surveying Israel's environmental movement and assessing a range of environmental history and policy issues.[25] He has been a visiting professor or affiliated with numerous universities including the Harvard School of Public Health (1989-1997); University of Otago Law School (1998, 2003, 2008, 2016); Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology (2011, 2013–14); Michigan State University (2015) and Renmin University of China (2015). In 2017, Tal returned to Tel Aviv University to assume the position of Chair of the Department of Public Policy.

In 2006, in conjunction with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, he initiated a bi-annual international Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification at Ben Gurion University,[26] which brings together some 500 participants from over 60 countries to discuss a range of research findings and issues associated with sustainable land management in drylands.[27] He chaired five consecutive conferences, most recently in 2014.[28]

In 2008, Tal was among the founders of the Green Movement, which ran in the 2009 Knesset elections on a joint ticket with Meimad.[29] Tal was the third candidate on the slate. The party received 1% of the popular vote, which fell short of the required 2% threshold.[30]

In 2010, Tal was elected chair of the party and began promoting a broad social and environmental agenda. Shortly thereafter, the Green Movement took legal action to prevent the appointment of Yoav Galant as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, due to his seizure of public land next to his home and the filing of a false affidavit to the Supreme Court.[31] The Attorney General eventually accepted the Green Movement's position and Galant's appointment was cancelled.[31] During Tal's tenure, the party also initiated campaigns to save the Samar sand dunes, to prevent the privatization of national parks, to stop the development of highway overpasses in the Jerusalem Forest and to create a “Green New Deal” for Israel's economy.[32] Tal also successfully sponsored an initiative to ensure gender equality in the party, ensuring parallel female and male party co-chairs.[33]

In 2010 the Green Movement joined with the Hatnuah party for the January 22, 2013, elections, where Tal was placed as number 13 on the party list and he oversaw the party's environmental platform.[34] Six months after the elections, he stepped down as party chairman to complete his sabbatical at Stanford where he wrote his most recent book: "The Land is Full: Addressing Overpopulation in Israel."

In 2019, Tal joined Benny Gantz's new "Hosen L'Yisrael" (Israel Resilience) party and was placed at 25 on the Knesset list;[35] following the merger with Yeish Atid he was ultimately slated at 45. During the election campaign he was involved in drafting the party's green platform and active in the party's outreach to Israel's environmental community.[36]

Tal was one of Israel's first advocates favoring a national policy to reduce population growth as a precondition to a sustainable future.[37] In 2011, a national convention of the Green Party supported a position that in general recognized the importance of the population issue, but chose not to prioritize it immediately.

Tal called attention to population growth as early as 2002, in Pollution in the Promised Land, his survey of environmental history in Israel:

“The most critical single factor in understanding the downside of Israel’s environmental history is population pressure: with an average increase of one million people a decade, the land soon became very crowded. Israel’s population density is now roughly 270 people per square kilometer. Eventually economics, water resources, noise and the general dysfunction caused by the unbearable density will push Israel into a confrontation with advocates of large families and mass immigration. Environmentalists should not be afraid to speak on behalf of the many natural treasures that will otherwise be decimated by the crowds; flora and fauna are the first to pay for human encroachment on shrinking habitat. Future generations will certainly have reason to resent the deafening silence.”[38]

In 2015, along with Professor Eyal Rotenberg from the Weizmann Institute he founded the non-profit organization "Zafuf" - the Israel Forum for Demography, Environment and Society. The advocacy group, for the first time, brings a diverse group of Israel academics, activists and concerned citizens together to consider the implications of Israel's population dynamics and raise awareness among the general public about how to begin the process of demographic stabilization.[39] He has since written widely in the Israeli and the international press about the perils of overpopulation in Israel[40] and the world.[41]

Tal presently lives in Maccabim with his wife Robyn Klein Tal and three daughters, is active in his local Masorti synagogue as community gabai, and intermittently plays fiddle and mandolin in the Arava Riders, an Israeli bluegrass band.[42]