The historical lesson of the kibbutz in pre state Israel lies in the deep pragmatism of its early leaders, who were committed to understanding young people and so created a medium for them to lead lives relevant to their personal needs and to the society around them. That pragmatic medium was the kibbutz, set up in an era of scarcity and nation-building. Only after that came the development and imposition of an ideology of strict communism, which has proven to be outmoded in today’s global economy. The ideology of the revolutionary Zionist pioneers cannot serve the needs of third and fourth generation Israelis. The commitment to social justice can and should be the same, but its practical implementation has to be different in this century.
It is disappointing that respected leaders like Menachem Rosner are unable to come to terms with new realities, clinging instead to a lost world. Rosner’s statement that the “kibbutz movements strongly opposed the introduction of the fully market value, non egalitarian income” is especially telling (our italics). He must use the past tense because, in the last five years, the new leaders of Takam and Kibbutz Artzi (the old “right” and “left” kibbutz movements, now merging into one) have clearly rejected constructing red lines as each kibbutz struggles to save its community in its own way. Indeed, in recent interviews with us, the current Artzi leadership clearly stated its support for “pluralism” in the movement, including the differential salary model, as has the Takam leadership in recent newspaper interviews.
Frankly, as we continue our journalistic research on the changes in the kibbutzim, we are more stunned by the depth of the crisis than when we wrote our original article. No amount of sociological research or stubborn idealism can discount the truly profound crisis that the kibbutzim face today. If, after ten to fifteen years of painstaking deliberation, 22 percent of them have voted for some kind of differential salary system, intellectual integrity requires admitting that the kibbutz may have moved beyond a totally egalitarian economy. And the number choosing differential salaries continues to increase. But this juxtaposition of “egalitarian” and “non egalitarian” gives a distorted picture of the kibbutz as it is and has been. Rosner is well aware of the preponderance of outside incomes even in the kibbutzim that purport to oppose change. This income has been part of kibbutz life for decades, coming either from individual members’ outside families or from entrepreneurial work on the side. The movement has never been able to address this source of inequality.
Rosner can claim that the traditional kibbutz model works only because a handful (yes, a handful—from 20 to 40) of the 265 kibbutzim are financially solvent and therefore perhaps several years away from the salary model. We believe that eventually most, if not all, kibbutzim will move ...
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