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In this series, Michael Livni has been dealing with the underlying causes, in Israel and in the kibbutz movement, that resulted in the “ideological anemia” responsible for the kibbutz movements vulnerability to financial crisis. In this article, Livni discusses the dilemma of leadership within the movement as a further exacerbating factor.

The nature of the leadership in the kibbutz movement was an additional contributory factor to its inability in relating to the unfolding reality – including the internal reality that had developed in the kibbutzim as a result of the paradigm of the generations and the ascendancy of post-modernity described previously. A summary discussion of kibbutz leadership is complex and problematic as it involves historical sensitivities.


In two of the three major historic kibbutz movements, the Kibbutz Hameuchad and in particular in the Kibbutz Haartzi -Hashomer Hartzi , leadership was based on a “historic leadership”. The authority of this leadership was akin to that of the Hassidic Masters in Eastern Europe.

This historic leadership had an emasculating effect on the internal development of alternative leadership in those movements


As distinct from Hakibbutz Hameuchad and Hakibbutz Ha’artzi the third movement, Ichud Hakvutzot Vehakibbutzim had no historic leadership. In general, it was associated with Mapai. The Ichud played a significant role in Mapai but in no way dominated it. The pragmatism of the Ichud (as distinct from dogmatism of the other movements) reflected the pragmatism of Mapai. It was no coincidence that innovations such as Lina Mishpachtit (children sleeping in their parents’ home) began in the Ichudwhere it first received (grudging) recognition in 1967. It was no coincidence that it in addition to sending shlichim to Habonim, it was the Ichud which sent shlichim to Young Judaea and eventually to the Reform movement.

It was the Ichud which gave institutional support to Chug Shdemot, the Shdemot (= fields) circle, composed of young kibbutz intellectuals from all the movements. The circle emerged in the early 1960’s. They founded the quarterly, Shdemot which continued publication for 30 years. In the 1970’s an English version of Shdemotappeared – a partial replicate of the Hebrew – edited by David Twersky, z”l.

Great hopes were pinned on Chug Shdemot but they remained unfulfilled at that time. The members were mostly educators – not suited for political leadership in a time of crisis. Muki Tzur, Shdemot activist did become Secretary of the Takam in the late 1980’s. Some members of this group did have an important influence on the 21stCentury renaissance of communal groups – a story which will be dealt with later in this series.


It was no coincidence that it was in the Ichud that a young charismatic personality emerged that might have had a decisive effect on the kibbutz movement – Musa Charif of Kibbutz Tzora, graphic artist and architect.

In the 1950’s he served as secretary of the Hanoar Halomed youth movement and united it with Hanoar Haoved to form Hanoar Haoved Velomed youth movement, the “sister movement” of Habonim in Israel.

In 1976 Charif became General Secretary of the Ichud. Charif was a rising star in the Labor party. There is no doubt that his interfacing with Diaspora youth and Habonim graduates on Kibbutz Tzora (South African and Australian Habonim) had an influence on him. In the wake of the Labor reversal in 1977, he realized immediately that the Labor movement in general and the kibbutz movement in particular would have to develop a proactive policy in the development towns in their regions. He understood that the Labor debacle of 1977 made it imperative to seek new allies not only in Israel but also in the Diaspora. In 1978, on the initiative of then shaliach of the Ichud to the Reform movement, Gidon Elad of Chatzerim, Charif visited America. His visit was focused mainly on the Reform movement. It was Musa Charif who was the moving force behind the merger of the Kibbutz Hameuchad and the Ichud which prompted my essay in the November 1979 issue of the JEWISH FRONTIER referred to at the outset of this series.

Musa Charif was killed in a traffic accident in January 1982. Could he have made a difference? We will never know. It is similar to the question of what might have been if Yitzchak Rabin had not been assassinated. What is certain is that no leadership emerged to contend with the economic crisis that unfolded shortly after Charif’s death.

The landmark events of the crisis in the kibbutz movement during the past twenty years, the process of redefining the term kibbutz in the Cooperative Societies Regulations and the emergence of the city kibbutzim and communes will be the subject of the next articles in this series