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In the pre­vi­ous arti­cle Livni detailed some of the para­me­ters of the finan­cial cri­sis that hit the kib­butzim. In fact, most (but not all) the kib­butzim were extremely vul­ner­a­ble because they no longer had the ide­o­log­i­cal strength to with­stand the temp­ta­tions of speculation.

Not all kib­butzim allowed them­selves to be lured into the world of finan­cial spec­u­la­tion. If they did, it was with only a per­cent­age of their prof­its. Those kib­butzim weath­ered the finan­cial storm. The prob­lem was that the cen­tral finan­cial and eco­nomic insti­tu­tions of the move­ments, one of whose pur­poses was mutual help, had become involved in spec­u­la­tion. They were no longer there to help weaker kib­butzim. The move­ment struc­ture of mutual aid between kib­butzim collapsed.

Only the Kib­butz Hadati move­ment of Ortho­dox kib­butzim made a move­ment deci­sion (albeit by a nar­row vote) based on ide­ol­ogy, not to involve them­selves in spec­u­la­tion. In the main, the finan­cial cri­sis did not affect the Kib­butz Hadati. The exam­ple of theKib­butz Hadati shows that a firm ide­o­log­i­cal deci­sion based on their vision and prin­ci­ples of reli­gious social­ism enabled their move­ment to weather the storm.

The con­clu­sion is clear. Finance and econ­omy were only prox­i­mate causes of the cri­sis. It was the “cultural-ideological assim­i­la­tion” of the kib­butz to sur­round­ing neo-liberal val­ues that cre­ated the “ide­o­log­i­cal ane­mia” which made the kib­butz move­ment so vul­ner­a­ble. The kib­butzim were no longer guided by prin­ci­ples of their orig­i­nal vision.



The causes of the ide­o­log­i­cal ane­mia, already appar­ent at the end of the 1970’s, lay in devel­op­ments result­ing from the estab­lish­ment of the state as well as processes within the kib­butz move­ment itself.

In order to dis­cuss the impact of the estab­lish­ment of the state we have to revisit the his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. The kib­butz was born as a Zion­ist enter­prise. We often for­get that there were always two aspects to the term “Zion­ism”. The one aspect, polit­i­cal Zion­ism, was a response to the phys­i­cal need of Jews for a secure home­land in an ever more hos­tile world. Herzl’s recipe for the tra­vails of his peo­ple was a state for the Jews “like all the nations”. The other aspect, cul­tural Zion­ism, asso­ci­ated with the name of Achad Ha’am (1856 – 1927), sought to con­tend with the threat of moder­nity to the con­tin­ued cre­ative sur­vival of Judaism.

Achad Ha’am claimed that the only way to stem phys­i­cal and cul­tural assim­i­la­tion inher­ent in the impact of moder­nity would be the re-establishment of a Jew­ish National Home in the his­toric home­land of the Jew­ish peo­ple. In par­tic­u­lar, he believed that renewed Jew­ish cre­ativ­ity depended on reviv­ing the cre­ative Bib­li­cal ten­sion between WHAT IS (the priestly tra­di­tion) and WHAT OUGHT TO BE (the prophetic tra­di­tion oftikkun). This would be pos­si­ble only in a Jew­ish National Home where a Jew­ish polity would have to con­tend with all polit­i­cal, socio-economic and cul­tural chal­lenges of moder­nity. In that con­text, the kib­butzim saw them­selves as con­sti­tut­ing an exam­ple of real­iz­ing val­ues “that ought to be” in the here and now of the emerg­ing Jew­ish state.


Dega­nia and other kvut­zot that fol­lowed were the result of a “mar­riage of con­ve­nience” between the needs of the (polit­i­cal) Zion­ist estab­lish­ment and Labor Zion­ist pio­neers who sought to real­ize a par­tic­u­lar (prophetic) socio-cultural vision of what a Jew­ish state should be.

The Zion­ist estab­lish­ment needed an eco­nomic way to set­tle the land and to pro­vide the agri­cul­tural infra­struc­ture for urban set­tle­ment. Later, in the 1930’s, the social struc­ture of the kib­butz made it an ideal frame­work for set­tling iso­lated areas in order to ensure the future bor­ders of the Jew­ish state.

In the wake of the estab­lish­ment of the State, that mar­riage of con­ve­nience came into ques­tion. The gov­ern­ment was con­fronted by unprece­dented chal­lenges with which the kib­butzim were unable/unwilling to cope. The out­stand­ing exam­ple was the absorp­tion of the mass immi­gra­tion imme­di­ately after the estab­lish­ment of the State. New moshavim par­tially replaced the kib­butzim in agri­cul­ture. In addi­tion, after a large num­ber of kib­butzim (e.g. Gesher Haziv, Urim) were founded imme­di­ately after the estab­lish­ment of the state, the kib­butz was no longer as nec­es­sary for secur­ing bor­ders and unset­tled areas.

Within the kib­butzim, the real­iza­tion of polit­i­cal Zion­ism, i.e. — the estab­lish­ment of the state, con­sti­tuted a ratio­nale for many to leave the kib­butz. Many took posi­tions in gov­ern­ment or in the army. Many felt it was now time to make their own indi­vid­ual way.

Nev­er­the­less, until 1977 the Gov­ern­ment was a Labor gov­ern­ment. It would be an exag­ger­a­tion to say that the gov­ern­ment was social­ist but Israel was a mixed econ­omy wel­fare state. In mat­ters such as agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment, its poli­cies were very favor­able to the kib­butzim. There was always a sig­nif­i­cant group of kib­butz mem­bers in the Knes­set and a num­ber of min­is­ters in the government.

The polit­i­cal rever­sal of 1977 brought a gov­ern­ment to power that rep­re­sented immi­grants of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion who had felt patron­ized and exploited by the Labor “aris­toc­racy”. They demo­nized the kib­butzim as the ulti­mate sym­bol of that Israel from which they felt socially and ide­o­log­i­cally alien­ated. End of mar­riage. The kib­butzim were now on their own!

In sum­mary, in the first three decades of state­hood the kib­butzim achieved a degree of eco­nomic con­sol­i­da­tion but then their Zion­ist pur­pose came into ques­tion in the eyes of Israel soci­ety in gen­eral and in their own eyes as well.

In our next arti­cle we will turn to the changes within the kib­butz move­ment which pre­dis­posed it to forego its prin­ci­ples and which made it so vul­ner­a­ble in the eco­nomic cri­sis. A key to under­stand­ing that vul­ner­a­bil­ity lies in the chang­ing out­look of the gen­er­a­tions of the kibbutz.