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Want to Really Help Israel? Then Lose Your Oil Addiction

January 17, 2008 By:
Rob Eshman
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Quick, name one thing that 99 percent of all American Jews agree on. Impossible, right?

We are the people who pride ourselves on our contentiousness, who revel in our stiff-neckedness, who love to remind the world that where there are two Jews, you'll find three opinions.

But it's not always so.

According to the American Jewish Committee's 2007 annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, Jews are just 1 percentage point short of total agreement on a topical political issue: energy independence.

"In your opinion," asked 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."

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 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 United Nations 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 suppose that your concern about Israel doesn't extend to what will happen to it a whole 10 years or so 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 such as 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.

We know that a portion of every dollar we spend at the pump flows directly to those trying to destroy Israel and kill us. Ninety-nine percent of us know this. 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-mileage cars. But they don't.

Driving a gas-guzzling car is anti-Israel. If you show up in your Mercedes M-class, Range Rover or Tahoe to a pro-Israel event, you might as well have stayed home. The gas you just wasted to show your support for Israel will help fund a Hamas operative in Gaza.

But for those of you devoted to Mercedes, which has the worst average fleet mileage besides Chrysler, there is another way to help.

The American Jewish Committee has been involved in its Green Project in order 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 as a provision of comprehensive energy legislation 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 is editor in chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

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