Re-Paying Jonah's Debt to the Whale
Israel arrived like the proverbial cavalry onto the beaches of St. Kitts and Nevis this year.
Thousands of years after a whale saved Jonah, Israel has returned the favor by helping to save the whales.
After years of economic bullying, bribery, cajoling, and arrogant posturing, the Japanese whaling interests had thought they had the votes to form a majority bloc at this year's meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
The Japanese delegation arrived in the Caribbean, booked into the best hotels, and began to wine and dine their bought and paid for puppet delegates from Mongolia, Senegal, Mali, Togo, and assorted other small nations that recently joined the IWC at the behest of Japan.
The Japanese had counted the heads and were confident of the votes to finally seize majority control of the world's only whaling regulatory body.
But victory was snatched from their hands with the arrival of Israel and the defection of Belize. Israel did not come to the table because of bribes, they came to save the whales. Their enlistment as the 70th member of the IWC stopped the Japanese takeover bid in its tracks.
One of the defeated Japanese resolutions would have allowed commercial hunting of 150 piked (Minke) and 150 Byrde whales in the territorial waters of Japan, Iceland, and Norway. It was defeated 31-30.
It was the Israeli vote that carried the day for the whales.
Another motion would have removed the prohibition on hunting dolphins and porpoises. The Israeli vote again made the crucial difference. The votes were cast by Esther Efrat, the head of the treaty division at the Foreign Ministry.
"The Israeli position on whaling is clear. Whaling is illegal in Israel and off of Israel's coast. We were bringing our position to the international forum," explained Mark Regev, spokesperson for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
"Israel has a very strong commitment to environmental matters. We've got a ministry for environmental affairs whose full-time job it is to make sure the environment is looked after. Whaling is illegal in Israel and when we go to the international forum, we are making those opinions known. That's why on the whaling issue we lined up with those who believe whales should be protected," he said.
Israel joined at the last minute after an alert was sent by the US government representatives to Israel's Foreign Ministry urging Israel to join the US against the
plans by Japan to take over the IWC.
Israel was not bribed but reacted to support an ally on an issue that the Israeli citizens firmly supported. Most of the nations supporting Japan are doing so in defiance of the polls that demonstrate that their citizens are opposed to whaling.
It also made a difference that Belize decided to switch allegiance to the whales and decided to vote against Japan after influential members of the Belize tourist industry pressured their government to vote for the whales. (See earlier posting on 6/22/06 titled "The Power of One").
Israel has never had a whaling industry. In fact the Old Testament is very in stating that whale and dolphin meat is prohibited by God.
By joining the IWC, Israel has also assumed a position of leadership as a marine conservation nation for the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel's own non-profit NGO IMMRAC is devoted to protecting whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Mia Elasar, a committee member at IMMRAC, said that she hopes Israel's participation in the IWC will mean the country will put its heart into local issues, such as those addressed by ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area).
"The recent vote against whaling is expected to put Israel on the local map. It shows us that there is a place to really vote for preserving Mediterranean marine mammals," said Elasar, who hopes Israel will take the reigns and lead awareness to marine conservation.
"There [at ACCOBAMS] we can really make an impact. This authority will affect seals and dolphins, which are a threatened species in the Mediterranean more because of fishing and less of hunting."
"There are whales in the Mediterranean," Elasar confirms. "There are six species to be found off the Israeli coast. The main problem with conservation of marine mammals is that their reproductive rates are slow. What we are doing now we will only get back in 10 or 20 years. The animals will disappear if we don't watch it."
The Mediterranean is home to the world's second highest percentage of endemic species, including the Posidonia sea grass and the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal. Species also include 28 cetaceans, the loggerhead turtle, blue-fin tuna and swordfish. But currently, less than 1% of the Mediterranean is protected.