Do we really aspire for Israel to be the next Saudi Arabia? Jonathan Mark seems to have drunk the Kool-Aid served up by Howard Jonas and other backers of oil shale exploration in Israel (“The Great Israeli Oil Rush,” Nov. 19). Mark devotes just one paragraph to the opposition, led by Israel’s environmental movement, which deserves extremely serious consideration.

Jonas argues that oil will strengthen Israel’s economy, military defense and energy independence. He is wrong. Around the world natural resource extraction has frequently resulted in stagnant economies and tremendous gaps between rich and poor. Just this week Rabbi Michael Melchior is visiting New York to raise the alarm about these problems in regard to the more immediate prospect of drilling for natural gas off the coast of Israel. Melchior’s focus will be on the distribution of billions of dollars in profits. The Israel Civic Action Forum is calling for a bigger share of the money to go to the government of Israel to be invested in narrowing the huge gap between Israel’s well-off and growing underclass.

Militarily, refineries and other installations become tempting targets in wartime. Just think about how Saddam Hussein set the oil fields of Kuwait on fire in 1991. The environmental destruction caused by mining and drilling can also contribute to civil unrest. With revenues from oil pouring in, governments sink into corruption and authoritarianism. Do we want Israel to be exposed to these kinds of risks?

Jonas thinks that extracting oil from shale in Israel is the perfect example of “doing well by doing good.” I beg to differ. Despite Jonas’ moving stories, the Christian “heroes” who are devoting themselves to the oil shale project are not helping the Jewish people. And Jonas, Steinhardt and Rothschild are not “giving Israel a gift beyond all their prior philanthropy combined.” To the contrary, they are likely saddling Israel with more poverty, more illness and more insecurity.

Energy independence does have the potential to increase Israel’s security. According to Marks, Jonas says that commercial production of oil is still 11 or 12 years away. Just imagine if the next decade was spent developing Israel’s capacity to generate energy from renewable sources. Once built, solar and wind energy installations require no fuel at all. Many more jobs are required to operate these technologies than to extract fossil fuels, widely distributing the benefits and strengthening the social fabric. Israel would be energy independent forever, not just for a few years until the oil runs out. If Jonas and his friends really want to help Israel, they will leave the oil in the ground and invest their money in clean energy for Israel instead.

 

Manhattan