January 3, 2008
End hypocrisy now
But it's not always so.
According to the American Jewish Committee's 2007 annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, Jews are actually just one percentage point short of total agreement on a topical political issue: energy independence.
"In your opinion," went one survey question, "how important is it that the United States achieve energy independence? Is it very important, somewhat important, or not important at all?"
Eighty-two percent of respondents answered, "Very important," and 17 percent answered, "Somewhat important."
I'm no math whiz, but by my reckoning that means 99 percent of American Jews recognize that America's dependence on foreign oil must end. The reasons, clear enough to many during the first oil crisis in 1973, have only become more painfully obvious.
First, there is the fact that burning fossil fuels speeds up global warming -- bad for the Jews and the other 99.75 percent of humanity.
And bad for Israel. In its 2000 report to the UN Convention on Climate Change, Israel listed the dire consequences it faced as a result of global warming. Drought, eroded beaches (goodbye tourism), hotter summers, crop devastation. The list has eerie echoes of the Ten Plagues, except no one will be debating whether it really happened.
But say your concern over Israel doesn't extend to what will happen to it a whole 10 years from now. Say you only care about the threats it faces today.
Well, then: More immediately, our oil dependence forces us to do business with anti-democratic wing nuts like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Wahabi-loving, Israel-hating Arab regimes. Furthermore, America's lack of leadership in developing replacement technologies for oil drives nascent powerhouses like China and Russia into the arms of Iran, another enemy of Israel. You're worried about Iranian nukes? Choke off the money that regime gets to pay for them.
"As the U.S. continues to invest in the oil economies of the Middle East and the Muslim world," writes Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, "these economies continue to use their oil revenues to spread radical Islam, promote anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas and, in some cases, develop unconventional weapons. Every time an American goes to a gas station he is sending money to America's enemies."
We know this: A portion of every dollar we spend at the pump flows directly to the people trying to destroy Israel and kill us. Ninety-nine percent of us know this. And yet, we just keep on pumping.
I spend more time than most people in the parking lots of Jewish institutions: Synagogues, day schools, country clubs, agencies. You would think that if we all agree that high fuel consumption is bad for the Jews, our parking lots wouldn't still be full of low- or even mid-mileage SUVs and luxury cars. But they are. You would think if 99 percent of Jews want energy independence, temple boards would reserve precious parking lot space for members who drive high-MPG cars. But they don't.
"Self-interest is a powerful root from which all sorts of idealism can grow," the philosopher Michael Walzer once wrote. In other words, it's not noble to be green, it's irresponsible not to be. Driving a gas guzzling car is anti-Israel. If you show up in your Mercedes M-class or Range Rover or Tahoe to a StandWithUs or AIPAC meeting, you might as well have stayed home. Mazel tov: The gas you just wasted to show your support for Israel will help fund a Hamas operative in Gaza.
Our children might look back and wonder, rightly, if we have some kind of death wish. They might ask how we can so fervently and with such unanimity believe one thing, yet so blithely do another. There is a relative handful of us who have switched to hybrids or biodiesels, but for the majority, the gap between what we believe and what we do is as deep and wide as, say, the Persian Gulf.
But no one's perfect, you say. For those of you devoted to Mercedes -- worst average fleet mileage besides Chrysler -- there is another way to help. Two Jewish organizations have made energy independence the cornerstone of their activism, and you can help them.
The American Jewish Committee has been deeply involved in its Green Project, to transform itself into a model of energy efficiency and conservation. Its Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Bonus Program provides cash incentives to full-time AJC employees to purchase new hybrid cars. It's a program that synagogues and day schools can emulate, offering even symbolic discounts to parents who drop their kids off from a hybrid.
Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress spearheaded the inclusion of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA) as a provision of comprehensive energy legislation (the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) signed by President Bush into law. The bipartisan act makes available millions of dollars to develop joint Israeli-U.S. projects in alternative sources of energy, including solar, hydrogen and biodiesel.
The idea for the provision was a natural, according to the AJCongress' Gary Ratner. Israel and the United States share technological expertise and geopolitical interest in these alternative energy sources, he told me. "We need to be doing more of this," he said.
Yes, we do. And, what has become unavoidably clear, given the state of Israel and the state of the earth, "we" means "you."
Or, at least 99 percent of you.
Rob Eshman shows off his new bio-diesel-powered station wagon (March, 2007)