The first eight articles in this series outlined the background to the many factors – internal, national and global – which made the kibbutz movement so vulnerable to the economic and financial crisis which developed in Israel during the early nineteen eighties. The crisis exposed the “ideological anemia” of the kibbutz movement described in previous articles. The next three articles chronicle the central events of the last three decades. This summary of “main events” is a retrospective – at the time the significance of some of these events was not understood by most.
The momentous years (for the kibbutz movement) between 1985 and the present (2012) are very recent history. The span of almost three decades is divided into three periods. The first period, just over a decade, ended in 1997. Landmark events during that period set the stage for the major transformation which took place during the next period whose end was marked in 2010 by the kibbutz movements’ centenary convention in Degania. That convention also serves as a convenient point for the onset of the third period, currently in its opening phase.
These landmark events were taking place against the backdrop of the financial insolvency of the kibbutz movement and its institutions as well as of many individual kibbutzim. (See third article) The 1985 emergency clamp down on credit and rocketing interest rates of 25% to 85%, created a freeze in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors of the economy. A business could go bankrupt or fire its employees. This was not an option for kibbutzim. The kibbutz leadership was forced to negotiate with the government and the banks to find a way to deal with the collective debt of the kibbutzim and their institutions. That debt spiraled to 6 billion shekalim (about $ 4 billion USD at the time). This debt and the debt of the moshav movement threatened the liquidity of the banks. In 1992, politics and leadership enabled the moshav movement to have 75% of its debts revoked. In any case, moshav members, could simply abandon their holdings – literally walk away from their debts. Kibbutzim remained saddled with debt and in many cases with an aging population. Eventually 25% of their debts were written off. In addition, the government relaxed zoning restrictions within the kibbutzim, especially those near the border, thus allowing the conversion of agricultural land to residential land. Selling land for real estate saved a number of kibbutzim – both financially and demographically. The last decade has witnessed stabilization of the kibbutz’s economic situation. Taken as a whole, there has been significant economic growth. The introduction of residential areas for non-members (often including many kibbutz sons and daughters returning after many years) has expanded the nominal kibbutz population to 141,000 and reduced the average age. However, the expanding population does not necessarily express ideological commitment.
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- 1985 – Abolition of the unlimited guarantee of mutual aid of the movement for its individual kibbutzim. This process begins in the United Kibbutz Movement (UKM) in 1985 and is followed by the Kibbutz Artzi – Hashomer Hatzair somewhat later. Only the small orthodox (today 19 kibbutzim) HaKibbutz Hadati movement retains its classic structure because it has avoided the financial market and reined in investments.
- 1986 – First debt settlement arrangement. It soon becomes apparent that it is inadequate.
- 1987 – Kibbutz Beit Oren, UKM, (gutted by the Carmel forest fire in 2011), announces that it is revoking the principle of comprehensive mutual responsibility – the members are now on their own.
- 1987 – First city kibbutzim established: Tamuz in Beit Shemesh -UKM. Migvan in Sderot – Hakibbutz Haartzi. (They had been preceded by the orthodox Reshit located in Jerusalem in 1979).
- 1992 – Kibbutz Ein Zivan on the Golan Heights becomes the first kibbutz to officially implement privatization, i.e. differential salaries for members based on their individual "market value".
- 1993 – The Registrar of Cooperative Societies rules that Ein Zivan is no longer a kibbutz but his ruling has no immediate practical implications.
- 1993 – Arik Reichman (Glil-Yam) replaces Muki Tzur (Ein Gev) as General Secretary of the UKM. The vigorous opposition to change in the UKM secretariat gives way to Reichman’s stand. Reichman states that Ein Zivan is only a symptom of what might be necessary to “bring the kibbutz into line with the changes in surrounding society – there is no way to guarantee the continuity of the collective kibbutz”.
- 1994 – First educational kibbutz established by the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement at Ravid overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The youth movement no longer sees the kibbutz, in particular the privatizing kibbutz, as a relevant educational goal. Members’ income is derived from educational work in the surrounding area. The other “blue-shirt” movements, follow suit: Hamachanot Haolim in 1998 and Hashomer Hatzair in 2003.
- 1994 – Kibbutz Snir, just over the Green Line, near the sources of the Jordan River, becomes the first kibbutz in Hakibbutz Haartzi – Hashomer Hatzair to privatize.
- 1994 – Thirty kibbutzim who are fully committed to the idea of the collective kibbutz form an informal group, Kibbutz Tamid (Kibbutz Always). Significantly, the meeting was hosted by Kibbutz Yavneh – the flagship of Hakibbutz Hadati. The small number of the Kibbutz Tamid circle reflects the growing ambivalence to the cooperative ideal in the majority of the kibbutzim even if they officially still remained collective. As a contra, a group of privatizing kibbutzim form also form a circle – Kibbutz Atid (the Future Kibbutz).
- 1996 – Second and final debt settlement arrangement between government, banks and kibbutzim.
- 1997 – The UKM convention in Ein Harod grants legitimacy both to collective kibbutzim as well as privatizing kibbutzim by establishing the Collective Circle (Maagal Shitufi) and the Privatizing “Renewing” Circle (Maagal Mitchadesh). Two General Secretaries are elected, Dubi Helman ( Yotvata) represents the collective kibbutzim while Zvili Ben Moshe (Neve Ur) reflects the privatizing trend.
- 1997-1998 – In a series of two conventions, Hakibbutz Haartzi attempts to define parameters for collective kibbutzim. The official decisions prove to be non-viable. Abu Vilan (Negba) elected General Secretary in 1996, favors tolerating deviation from collective norms.
The stage is set for the landslide of change which marks the next period: 1998 to 2010.