Sunday October 4, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Yossi Beilin

The end of the kibbutz era

It is possible there will not be a single kibbutznik in the 19th Knesset. The kibbutzim are unhappy: How is this possible? How can it be that Israeli society has so deteriorated to the point of turning away from this important ideological sector?

The reduction of kibbutz representation in the Knesset is more a result of what has happened in the kibbutz movement itself than of society turning its back on it. Since the founding of the state there has been significant representation of kibbutzim in the Labor party and its predecessors, especially Mapai (the left-wing Zionist socialist party established in the 1930s), Mapam (the United Workers’ Party) and Achdut Avodah (a Zionist socialist party from 1919-1930). The kibbutz was viewed by members of these leftist parties as an exemplary way of life. Their youth movements taught these ideals to young people, who then established groups to join existing kibbutzim or establish new ones. Many of the leftist party leaders were kibbutz members themselves.

The kibbutz vote was homogenous: Each of the different kibbutz groups was dedicated to voting for one of these liberal parties. When someone would dare to vote for another party, all his or her kibbutz comrades would know who the "suspect" was. The kibbutz members were a mobilized sector of society: They came to every demonstration, even small rallies, without pampering, traveling on public transportation or vehicles provided by the kibbutz for such delegations. Kibbutz members volunteered to work at party headquarters for elections and some even worked regularly at election headquarters to make financial arrangements with kibbutz movements. Their prominent participation ensured that representation of leftist parties would be much larger than their relative share of the population.

The privatization of kibbutzim in recent years has changed the picture drastically. Now everything must be calculated. Each trip to the city has become an economic calculation. Any absence from work is reflected in one's wages. Party membership fees are no longer paid for by the kibbutz, but instead by the individual member. Voting has turned pluralistic. These "expansions" have allowed members to vote for the Right, parties whose representatives have never set foot in a kibbutz.

Phased privatization within the kibbutz movement has blurred the sector’s ideals, reduced the kibbutz presence at political events, lowered funding for parties and allowed kibbutz members to vote for different parties. In the last elections, 31.1 percent of kibbutz members voted for Kadima, 30.6% for Labor, 17.7% for Meretz and 5.8% for Likud. The number of kibbutznik votes for various parties did not justify the number of seats manned by kibbutz members in the outgoing Knesset. This was particularly noticeable in Meretz, despite its having been led by Haim Oron, one of the best parliamentarians in Israel and a member of Kibbutz Lahav.

So that's it. The story is over. In the future, kibbutzim will need to exercise influence via the geographic areas in which they are located and their representatives inside the different parties. When they want to influence areas of economic interest to them, an action which of course is legitimate, they will have to seek help from lobbyists.

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