The Charles Bronfman Prize Awarded to Israeli Environmentalist Dr. Alon Tal

The Charles Bronfman Prize, a $100,000 humanitarian award, named Dr. Alon Tal, Founder and Director of Research for the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, its 2005 recipient at a ceremony in Jerusalem, on January 10, 2006.

A team of judges comprised of former World Bank president and Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn, Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella and former Israeli minister Dan Meridor selected Tal from a field of 80 candidates.

Meridor acknowledged Tal’s feat of inspiring a generation to invest in their land.  The attitude used to be apathetic, said Meridor.  “Who has time to think of the environment?”  Now hundreds of students have come to Israel to tackle the pressing problems of the day with Dr. Tal.”

Tal, 45, has challenged and helped reshape Israel’s environmental policies. He was recently appointed by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join the government’s delegation to the United Nations for Combating Desertification.  Speaking on behalf of the Prize’s founders, Andrew Hauptman said, “He set out to change the world, and he has done so, impacting not only our world today but the world we shall leave behind for the next generation.”

In 1996, Tal founded the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies on Kibbutz Ketura. Set up under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, he recruited students from throughout the Middle East. The Institute has established itself among the region’s primary training grounds for environmentalists. Today, eighty percent of its graduates hold key regional environmental positions.

Several of Tal’s Jordanian protégés attended the Prize ceremony in support of their mentor. Earlier in the day, they met with officials from the Ministry of Environment to discuss pressing issues of the day.

At age 29, Tal founded Adam Teva V’din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, to fight for Israeli environmental rights. Considered Israel’s most effective environmental organization, it has won countless legal actions, garnered more stringent regulations, tougher enforcement policies, and increased environmental initiatives throughout the country.

Dr. Tal was unanimously voted chairman of Life and Environment, an umbrella group for Israel’s environmental community. The organization initiates national environmental projects and under his stewardship, has grown from 24 to 80 member organizations.

Charles Bronfman praised Tal, the Prize’s second recipient: “I am so grateful that my children established this prize. Alon Tal epitomizes its true spirit. His life has been an impressive tapestry of initiatives woven together to better the world, reflecting the best of Jewish and universal values alike. Through his profound commitment, he has inspired Israelis and others throughout the Mideast to find common ground in preserving the region’s environmental health.”

In the presence of his colleagues, family, friends, and government officials including Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Tal spoke movingly in the Jerusalem Municipal Chambers, the ceremony’s venue, which had been designed to resemble a desert floral oasis, “Israelis are tremendously committed to the environment. We can move mountains if optimism motivates us.”

“In addition,” Tal continued, “The Prize provides a once-in-a-life-time philanthropic opportunity to create a foundation to support Israeli grassroots activists who face emergency situations, fulfilling a lifelong dream.”

In 1994, Tal was a member of the initial Israeli environmental delegation to attend a conference for NGO’s in the Arab world. The first regional environmental initiative was organized under his direction, and now is called Friends of the Earth, Middle East. Its leadership includes Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian representatives.

James D. Wolfensohn, Chair of the international panel of judges responsible for Tal’s selection as the 2005 Prize recipient from an international field of candidates, said, “Dr. Tal has clearly demonstrated the exciting breadth of possibilities in the Middle East when Arabs and Israelis work together for the good of the region and its shared resources. His work proves that joint efforts can yield benefits far beyond those accomplished by working alone. His selection as Prize winner should encourage us all.”

One of Dr. Tal’s nominators, Dov Khenin, Chairman of Life and Environment, noted: “Even though he is only 45, Alon has managed to start or transform many of the leading environmental institutions in Israel. One can see the impact in coastlines that have been preserved, industrial discharge permits that have been toughened and enforced, and open spaces that have been preserved. Four environmental laws that he wrote have passed the Knesset and he has influenced many court precedents.”

The Charles Bronfman Prize Foundation, a United States 501(c)(3) corporation headquartered in New York, administers The Charles Bronfman Prize. Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman and Stephen Bronfman, founded the Prize in honor of their father’s 70th birthday. They are co-chairs of the Foundation.