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Charge: ‘Protection of Nature’ Group Focused on Jewish ‘Threat’

The Society for the Protection of Nature is accused of focusing on Jewish ‘threats’ while ignoring or compromising on Arab building.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 3/5/2013, 12:01 PM

Construction in Jewish town
Construction in Jewish town
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), a well-known environmentalist group, regularly publishes a report on the threats currently facing the natural environment in Israel. A man who researched the group’s latest report says it shows a clear ethnic bias, with a disproportionate focus on Jewish “threats.”

Of the 119 situations that SPNI lists as current  threats in its latest report, just three involve Arab construction and two Druze construction, Petach Tikva resident Shmuel Fischer told Arutz Sheva. Massive illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev, in dozens of communities, was reduced to a single threat, he noted.

On the rare occasions that SPNI did note construction in the Arab sector as a threat, the group recommended a compromise in which some illegal construction would be recognized, or communities would be allowed to expand, he said. In contrast, when it came to Jewish communities the group often took an uncompromising stance.

As an example, Fischer pointed out SPNI’s recommendations regarding Jewish homesteads in the Negev, which the group condemned as a “wasteful” use of land. The group called to uproot the Jewish homesteads, which were built with government encouragement, he said – while in the same report it called to recognize dozens of Bedouin communities that were built illegally in the same region.

Another example is the disparate treatment of a Jewish town, Kiryat Yaarim, and an Arab town, Jasser a-Zarka, both of which are hoping to expand, Fischer said. Regarding Kiryat Yaarim, SPNI argued that “even the smallest” version of the proposed expansion “threatens the open pastoral view and the continuous stretch of open, natural land north and west of the town.” However, when it came to Jasser a-Zarka, which hopes to expand in several directions, SPNI gave its approval to an expansion eastward.

“Even though the expansion of the Arab town of Jasser a-Zarka is initially portrayed as a ‘threat’, SPNI ultimately, surprisingly manages to find a way to allow expansion, even at the expense of open areas near the town,” Fischer said.

Fischer has compiled his own report with critique of SPNI’s approach.

Arutz Sheva sent Fischer’s report on to SPNI, which vehemently denied his charges. “In contrast to what was written, the Society for the Protection of Nature not only does not ignore the illegal construction in the Bedouin sector, but discusses it in depth, in threat number 96,” a spokesperson for the group said.

“The Society for the Protection of Nature works to protect nature throughout the country, from the Hermon in the north to Eilat in the south, with no distinction based on religion, race or nationality and without taking into account whether a town is Jewish or Bedouin,” he added. “Any talk of discrimination or preferential treatment for one sector or another is itself racist, and has no place in Israeli discourse.”

Fischer rejected SPNI’s rejection of his report. He noted that he had not charged SPNI with ignoring illegal Bedouin construction completely, but rather, with downplaying it and taking a compromising approach that stands in contrast to its approach regarding Jewish construction.