I’m voting Meretz again, even though it cost me NIS 5,000 a year. Voting for Yesh Atid is suicide for kibbutznikim.

We kibbutznikim have a bad habit of voting according to our ideology, even if it hurts individual specific interests, and the politicians know that. Thus both Ofir Pines (Labor)  as the Minister of the Interior and Yossi Sarid as a Meretz MK worked fiercely to remove the fish farms from the Gulf of Eilat, despite the fact that scientific evidence of damage from the enterprise was marginal at best. The result for the five kibbutzim who jointly owned the enterprise is the loss of both a dozen or more jobs in the region (with a population of 4000, even a dozen jobs are meaningful) and an annual dividend of about NIS 500,000 – or on average about NIS 5,000 per person. I don’t think a single one of them changed their vote in the next election as a result.

Most of the people living in Hevel Elot are first generation, or at most second. We came here as Zionists, for ideological reasons. The ideological reasons have changed over the generations: The founders of Yotvata came in the 1950s to live in terrible physical conditions in answer to Ben-Gurion’s famous call to settle the desert: “if the state does not conquer the desert, the desert will conquer the state.” Today young people come not to conquer the desert but to learn from it and live in harmony with it. They fight the mining of the sand dunes and the development of hotels in Timna despite the fact that both these activities theoretically support the region economically — we are here to live in and with the desert, not to destroy it.

So, do I feel like a “freier” (sucker), voting against my own interests? Most of us have trouble understanding the difference between political ideology that benefits the voters, and political favors for the voters. Political ideology that leads to policies that benefit the voters can be counted on over the long term; political favors depend on the whim of the politician. Occasionally, as in the case of the fish farms, voting according to a consistent ideology (environmental protection) hurts a particular constituency, but that’s not a reason to throw away an entire world view. I am not a “freier” because 95% of the time my vote for the left directly serves my interests.– and a vote for a party like “Yesh Atid” directly hurts them.  I’ll give here 3 examples: Health, dairy, and housing.

Health: We live in the periphery of the periphery, 200 km from Soroka, more than 300 km from Beilinson. The percentage of government spending out of total health spending has dropped gradually from nearly 70% in the mid-1990s to just under 60% today. During Labor and National Unity governments, the trend was slowed or even reversed (see graph – data from Adva Center). Among many health benefits the government no longer funds are plane tickets from Eilat to the center for medical treatment. For Arava and Eilat residents with chronic diseases, the question of plane tickets is the difference between receiving proper health care while remaining active at work and in the family, and deciding to forgo one of the above.

health spending

Dairy Industry: In 2011, then Labor Party member and Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simhon finally passed the dairy law, encoding our system of regulating but not subsidizing the dairy industry to the relief of dairy farmers around the country. Merely months afterward, Simhon defected to the newly formed “Independence” party, which saw no need for labor or for laborers. Now Minister of Trade, Simhon immediately recommended importing dairy products, forcing Israeli dairy farmers to compete not with each other on an even playing field but with Europe, whose farmers enjoy double subsidies: from nature (water that falls from the sky for free – “rain,” they call it) and from their governments. This is what Israeli capitalists call “free trade.”

Housing: I wrote a few weeks ago about the problems of housing in cooperative kibbutzim, so I will not go into details. Suffice it to say that the last two times the government built housing in the kibbutzim were 1996-7 (planned at the end of the Rabin-Peres government) and 2001-2 (planned at the end of the Barak government). No coincidence here.

These are examples of how political ideology translates into real policy that affects real people, not just politicians “paying back” their supporters with personal favors. The economic platforms of the parties on the left (Meretz, Labor) say government should take responsibility for social needs and should step in to regulate markets that cannot be considered free because of inherent inequalities. This ideology and the policies and laws that emerge from it benefit those of us living in the agricultural periphery, along with the rest of society.

On the other hand, voting for Yesh Atid is suicide for anyone who lives in the periphery — but 16.5% of the voters in the Kibbutz Movement did so in 2013.

Make no mistake. Yair Lapid, along with his “brother” Naftali Bennett, has no intention to help us. Lapid and Bennett worship the free market religiously —  they don’t need logic to justify their beliefs. They will continue with the fantasy that it is economically sound to import subsidized European produce, putting thousands of farmers out of work in exchange for a few agurot off the price in the supermarket and a huge profit for the importer in Tel Aviv. They will continue with their fantasy that privatizing health, education, and welfare will make them more efficient, despite the fact that privatization necessitates profiting from social needs. They will continue to give lip service to housing problems within the green line while funneling millions if not billions into the territories.

Kibbutznikim, moshavnikim, and our neighbors: remember who truly answers the needs of the periphery. Don’t let Lapid fool you. He is so enamored by free markets and the “start-up nation,” he forgets that much of the country and all of the periphery live off of services, agriculture and conventional industry. Don’t give him a chance to destroy us more than he has already.

About the Author
A member of Kibbutz Samar, Marjorie has lived in the Arava since 1987, working as a dairy farmer, treasurer, grant writer, and chief cat-herd. She currently directs the Southern Arava Agricultural Research and Development Center. Marjorie is married, with three children aged 12-22. She grew up in NJ and holds a BA from Cornell University and an MSc in agricultural economics from Hebrew University.
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