Kibbutz movement feud with Habonim Dror Australia olim takes bizarre turn

Kibbutz movement seeks to bar graduates from Habonim Dror who made aliyah to urban communes from speaking with their chanichim in Australia. Withholds allocated funding from 2019 budget to HaNoar HaOved in response to three Australians visiting the chanichim of their movement in Melbourne.

The latest chapter of the long running feud between the Kibbutz Movement and HaNoar Ha’oved VeHalomed/Dror Israel (which is the sister movement of Habonim Dror Australia) has taken a bizarre turn. 

Minutes from the October meeting of the Kibbutz Movement state that bogrim from Dror Israel have been visiting youth in Habonim Australia which violates their agreement. The minutes fail to acknowledge that the visitors were bogrim of Habonim Dror Australia, who made aliyah and were visiting their home countries and the kenim there.

Summary from October 2019 Kibbutz Movement meeting

The minutes further state that “As we have discovered that in recent weeks, members from Dror Israel in Australia and other places are acting in opposition to Habonim Dror Olami…. and we are not satisfied with these latest developments. Therefore, it has been decided not to allocate the monies promised to HaNoar HaOved in our 2019 budget. The money will only be transferred when members of Dror Israel abide by their side of the agreement (to cease contact with their overseas branches)”.

Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed/Dror Israel is affiliated to the kibbutz movement which seeks to realise the values of labour zionism through living in urban communes rather than kibbutzim. It has over 2,000 members in Israel, including dozens of bogrim of Habonim Dror Australia. Hanoar Haoved/Dror Israel receives funding from the kibbutz movement, but tensions have arisen between the two organisations. Many within the kibbutz movement oppose the ideological direction of Dror Israel, partly because it encourages bogrim to live in urban communities rather than on kibbutzim. 

In exchange for continued financial support, as of February 2019, bogrim in Dror Israel were required to cease interactions with their sister movement, Habonim Dror Australia, in a bid to curtail young Australians from moving into the Dror Israel movement in urban kibbutzim in Israel. What this failed to take into account was the many Australians already committed to Dror Israel, who would be disconnected from their home movement. To alleviate the ensuing  concerns raised about this decision, Nir Meir wrote a letter in which he stated that bogrim of Habonim Dror would not be prevented from being active in their own youth movement.

Habonim Dror Melbourne oleh Bryce Kenny recently challenged Nir Meir publicly on his facebook wall, writing, “I am flying to Australia shortly, and I plan to visit my former chanichim in the branch of Habonim were I grew up. Do you really think I shouldn’t be permitted to make this visit?”

The post received hundreds of likes and shares, including several supportive comments from members and supporters of Dror Israel.  When Nir Meir was contacted for comment about Bryce’s allegation he replied, “It’s not true and I have no comment”.

Yona Prital who challenged Nir Meir for the position of Kibbutz Movement CEO in 2015, added her support to Kenny, writing “The secretariat of the kibbutz movement needs to gather and stop its war against the graduates of Habonim Dror who made aliyah to continue being leaders to their chanichim towards aliyah and hagshama. Members of the kibbutz movement should demand that the secretariat of the movement allow and even encourage the continued connection between olim and their chanichim in Australia and other countries. The attempt to disconnect the graduates of the movement and the chanichim is immoral, not Zionist and in the spirit of the kibbutz.

Living the socialist dream in Haifa The story of 14 Habonim Dror bogrim realizing their Zionist vision through collective living and action in Israel. Speaking to Ittay Flescher, these leaders share what they do in their mesimot (social justice work) with their sister movement called HaNoar Haoved Vehalomed and other organisations in Haifa.#HagshamaInHaifa #Caulfield2CommuneHabonim Dror AustraliaHabonim Dror Southern AfricaHabonim Dror North AmericaAZYC

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Plus61J Media‎‏ ב- יום שבת, 7 ביולי 2018

The parents and friends of Habonim Dror Australia released a letter in September expressing their concerns about the cult-like behavior of Dror Israel which they claim includes “intolerance of dissent, a lack of transparency, and a disproportionate focus on group dynamics resulting in an unsafe environment”.

In response, 365 graduates of Habonim Dror Australia signed a petition rejecting the assertions of the PNF about Dror Israel, affirming the right of Habonim Dror Australia youth to make “decisions about how it functions and utilizes resources both human and financial, as well as the principles and frameworks it chooses to realise its beliefs and values.”

Jonathan Kenny also responded to the Parents and Friends of Habonim in a letter that said,
“I have read a position statement from 6 named persons on behalf of P&F dated 27 September 2019. My son Bryce made Aliyah in early 2017 and has lived and worked in the Dror movement in Israel since then. Bryce has not been separated from our family. He has traveled here, and we and many family members have travel led to Israel, many times in the past two and a half years. Bryce has been very happy and fulfilled. I have seen no evidence of the assertions in the position statement, and in particular have not observed anything to justify the references to cult like aspects, lack of transparency, or restriction of free thought and expression. Bryce’s regular conversations with me make me think the exact opposite about Dror”

Jarred Abrahams, boger of Habonim Dror Melbourne, made aliyah in 2016 and claims that this is less about Dror Israel, and more about an attempt to shut off ties between Habonim Dror and its graduates in Israel. “We’re the bogrim of Habonim Dror, that’s our biography and it’s part of our DNA. We’re going to be connected to our youth movement as long as the youth movement chooses us. Unfortunately from 2015-16 onwards, the kibbutz movement has directly and indirectly pushed out Habonim Dror graduates from every leadership position… and now they’re even getting mad at us for visiting our home countries and home kenim”

In the Chalutziut/Pioneering section of the ideology page on the Australian website, it states that “Habonim Dror believes in an ongoing process of transforming oneself through a constant introspection and critical evaluation of one’s own behaviour, beliefs and values.”

At a time when the Jewish people feel more divided than ever, I hope this message is taken to heart in a manner that allows the continued flourishing of all who strive for justice and equality in both the Diaspora and Israel. 

About the Author
Ittay Flescher is a freelance journalist and educator in Jerusalem.
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