Monday, April 11, 2011

NGOs Need Not Stake Responsible Positions

I spent a large chunk of the day with a very old friend - we went to school together when Richard Nixon was president - who grew up to be an important fellow in the field of nature preservation in Israel. He used to be an official of the Nature Preservation Society, before moving, some years back, to the Nature and Parks Authority. As I've hinted more than once, I'm trying to figure out what's the contemporary story of Jerusalem, and this fellow has a very interesting perch from which to see things. As you'd expect, the stories he tells don't fit any of the narratives you read about in the media, but it would be surprising if they did, and anyway, that's not the point of this post.

We hiked along the Sorek valley to the west and northwest of Jerusalem. This is an area which contains everything from archeological remains from most of the past 40 centuries or so, tons of infrastructure of all types and forms, a whole series of gigantic projects such as new roads, train tunnels and bridges and others undertakings, agriculture, tourism, and oodles of politics. Ah, and a nature reserve. My friend talked at length about the intricate and delicate process of making sure everybody can do their thing, without anyone trodding unduly on the needs of anyone else. (For example, the highway will sidestep a crusader ranch, even though this will entail hanging it off the edge of the hill).

It was an opportunity to peer into the bowels of decision-making in a democratic system.

Late in the afternoon he then made an enlightening comment. "The fine people in the Nature Preservation Society, being an NGO, can say whatever they want, and can stake purist positions. If anyone asks them how to resolve the problems they raise, they don't need to answer. They can respond that their job is to protect nature, period. How the train will cross the valley is not their business, so long as it doesn't cut across the nature. We in the Nature and Parks Authority, however, can't talk that way. We're part of the government. The part that needs to preserve nature, of course, but since we're part of the government we've got to be part of the solution, not of the external criticism. We've got to participate in the process of balancing diverse needs, multiple interests, conflicting political limitations, and so on".

He was talking about preserving nature, of course, not human rights or similar NGOs,but you see how the comment readily fits into other fields of discourse and execution, too.

1 comment:

Silke said...

me thinks I would like your friend very much