Naomi Tsur, who was born in England and moved to Israel in 1966 to study Classics and Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has had a varied career, ranging from coin curator in Israel’s Antiquities Authority to co-authoring a Hebrew-English/English-Hebrew dictionary and heading the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition.
Acknowledging her achievements in these fields, Naomi was invited five years ago by then mayoral candidate Nir Barkat to join his party running for the Jerusalem municipality. She accepted and was given third place on the list and the promise of appointment as Deputy Mayor if the party was successful in the elections.
When I interviewed her a few days ago Naomi admitted that she had become an advocate of ecological issues by accident, a feminist by accident, and a politician by accident. Needless to say, she has invested her considerable energy and intelligence in all these spheres, chalking up signal achievements along the way.
Barkat’s party was indeed successful in those elections, and during her term as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Naomi succeeded in furthering many ecological projects, establishing parks, preserving open spaces, and preventing massive construction in areas around the city. As is well known, the population of Jerusalem comprises a large ultra-orthodox element, and Naomi was also involved in combating their attempts to impose their religious tenets and way of life on the secular population.
But prior to last month’s municipal elections Mayor Barkat changed his priorities, and as a result Naomi felt impelled to establish her own list, Ometz Lev (Courage). The new movement featured women prominently on its list, championing female leadership for Jerusalem, while adopting a holistic urban platform. Thus, Ometz Lev’s members come from all sectors of the population as regards their religious and cultural affiliation, seeking to increase the representation of women in leadership roles, properly reflecting the proportion of women in the population, fostering greater government transparency and public participation, engendering environmental responsibility and sustainability, and furthering secular-religious cooperation.
With only two months in which to organize a campaign, Ometz Lev suffered from insufficient time and resources to garner exposure and support. While focussing on the ‘triple bottom line’ of economic, environmental and social issues, regarding them as interconnected facets of policy, the party sought to attract the votes of both secular and orthodox sections of the population, and of women in particular. However, several lists were vying for similar segments of Jerusalem’s electorate, and unfortunately when the results were in Naomi’s party was left without a seat on the new municipal council.
Now Naomi is turning her considerable talents to a subject that has long been dear to her heart and in which she has been active for many years, the concept of Green Pilgrimage. Naomi has been a global ambassador for the Green Pilgrimage Network for some time, and was instrumental in organizing the First International Green Pilgrimage Conference in Jerusalem earlier this year. The Israel branch of this world-wide organization seeks to promote pilgrimages and eco-friendly tourism to the City of Jerusalem every year, as well as to foster a network of home hospitality to be provided by both Arabs and Jews throughout the region. The organization of the Second International Jerusalem Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, to be held in 2015, is currently under way, seeking to further the organization’s goals of building partnerships between different faiths and their spiritual destinations.
There are other projects in which Naomi is involved. One of these is the treatment of sewage produced by the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in southern Jerusalem and which are currently soiling the Kidron Valley area. Getting the two populations to cooperate in overcoming this problem is no easy matter, but Naomi is convinced that a solution can be found by a combination of determination and good will, both of which she has in abundance. Naomi claims that this is one of the subjects that should really be on the agenda of the current Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, but at present nobody knows what subjects are under discussion.
Funds need to be raised and capital put in place to enable a massive project of this kind to be undertaken, probably under the auspices of an international business consortium. One can do no more than wish her luck in her new-old role as champion of environmental issues and urban sustainability.