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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Return of the Kibbutz?

The kibbutzim were once the backbone of Israeli society and its ideological and moral inspiration. But times and politics change and the old kibbutz movement was left behind. There seems to be a brand new one growing up in its place. 
By Gavri Bargil 
Over the past decade, this sense gathered momentum in public opinion and was reinforced by various reports in the media to the effect that the kibbutz had reached the end of its path, another steep cost of the global village in which we live.

Nevertheless, this turns out not to be the case. Very far from the public eye and from the press that follows it, a dramatic revolution has taken place over the last decade, during which the kibbutz idea recreated itself and was adapted for the 21st century.

Today, as the end of the first decade of the 21st century approaches, the kibbutz is once again becoming a key and influential factor in Israeli society and in shaping the State of Israel.

Over the last year the turnover of kibbutz industries totaled $8 billion, around 11 percent of the total industrial manufacturing turnover in Israel. Kibbutz agriculture, which represents 35 percent of all agricultural endeavors in Israel, generated an annual sales turnover of $1.5 billion. Kibbutzim's share of Israel's gross national product (GNP) is currently six percent, and this is case given that the kibbutz population represents 1.7 percent of the total population of Israel.
If in 2000 half of the kibbutzim faced the threat of closure, today only 30 kibbutzim still face financial insecurity and all the rest are on the road to stability and growth.

Along with the financial stability, demographic stability has also come and over the last three years more the number of new members accepted in the kibbutzim has exceeded the number of those leaving. If over the years, most kibbutzim did not gain new members and the only changes registered were the number of people leaving, in the last year, there were many kibbutzim that accepted dozens of new members.

When taking into account that 75 percent of the kibbutzim in Israel are located in the periphery and are along the state's southern and northern borders, this signifies a dramatic recovery with major implications for the State of Israel's most important interests.

How did this happen? What happened within the kibbutzim that enabled this dramatic turnaround?
Over the last decade the kibbutzim underwent a series of structural changes that together generated this revolution and prompted the dramatic recovery. The basic values upon which the kibbutz was built were preserved but their implementation has changed and has been adapted to the changing times. The reinvigorated thinking and the attempt to build the kibbutz in such a way that will lead to economic improvements and again attract young people led a more suitable balance of the values on which the kibbutz was built.

Firstly, the management culture was changed. In the past, the kibbutz social and commercial decisions were all made with the full participation of the entire membership, an expression of the equality, which was perceived as a supreme value of the kibbutz, but today there is a complete separation between business dealings and community affairs.
The community continues to be run in full partnership with the entire membership when making decisions; but the business aspects are determined according to standard professional criteria in the world at large.

The job market has changed as well. In the past all kibbutz members worked in the kibbutz framework and based on the
kibbutz's needs, but today, kibbutz members learn a profession and 35 percent of them work in free professions outside the kibbutz. This change is part of the balance attained between the value of work and the value of a livelihood and the desire for self-fulfillment, in contrast to the past, when everything was done in accordance with the needs of the collective.
Another change was the acquisition of personal security for kibbutz members. In the past it was common practice for a kibbutz member not to have personal possessions because everything belonged to the collective. In the wake of the shifts in the kibbutz, there is now a practice of guaranteeing an individual pension for every one and in some kibbutzim member's home have also been registered in their names.

The primary change that affected the kibbutz was the switch from full equality to basic equality. In the past, the kibbutz strived for all equality among members, but today there is a connection between livelihood and a kibbutz member's ability to earn, and the budget he receives at the end of each month. This process was embarked on by levying higher internal communal taxes on those with large salaries and in order to prevent the creation of gaps within the community. All of this was done while creating a security net that guarantees that no member of the community will fall and that even someone who cannot earn an adequate living for whatever reason will be able to receive a supplement from the communal funds collected from the internal taxation of members.

The new kibbutz has preserved the basic values that built the kibbutz almost 100 years ago, but it achieved a more appropriate balance among those values. If in the past, there was little room for the individual's will versus the will of the collective, today there is more space for the individual and the family alongside the communal space.

The kibbutz of the 21st century is not the same kibbutz of 100 and 50 years ago, but it still is way of life that can serve as an example of a just society with equality and solidarity, more than other society in the Western world.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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