The destruction of the kibbutzim and the myth of “the periphery”

We all carry our media-imposed impression of Israel’s periphery as impoverished regions mostly comprised of poorer Jews whose families trace their origins to Northern Africa and Middle Eastern countries (Mizrahim). Why oh why has the government consistently been neglecting these areas?

The truth is that successive governments have been intentionally neglecting these regions. Not because the majority of the residents are Mizrahi who usually vote for governing parties. Not by quirks of fate. The “periphery” has been intentionally neglected for decades because these areas are the very regions where nearly all of Israel’s kibbutzim are located.

The so-called periphery with 29 kibbutzim

For instance, Kiryat Shmona is usually considered the prime example of what is considered “the periphery”. However, nobody mentions that there are 29 kibbutzim surrounding Kiryat Shmona. It’s logical. In order to make the kibbutzim unlivable, the surrounding region must also be unlivable. The situation in Kiryat Shmona is in many ways representative of the Third World: abhorrent health care and lack of public transport.

Kibbutzim sacrificed as part of Cold War strategy

The covert campaign to destroy the kibbutzim can be traced to the Cold War years of the 1970s and 1980s. Israel had developed a unique democratic form of socialism which bore little similarity to the dictatorial communism of the Soviet-bloc countries. The Israeli form of socialism was based on freedom – it was not mandated at gunpoint. The kibbutzim – 2 to 3 percent of the country’s population — produced nearly 10 percent of its gross national product while defending the borders and providing Israel with many of its best military and political leaders.

The kibbutzim also absorbed many immigrants and gave hundreds of thousands of foreign volunteers the opportunity to experience Israel.

If it’s too successful get rid of it

During the Cold War period — and today as well — many political and business leaders had a black-and-white mind frame which only viewed the world in terms of capitalism and communism, good and bad. Not only was Yugoslavia sacrificed. So were social services in Eastern and `parts of Western Europe. And so were the kibbutzim.

The voluntary socialist system of the kibbutzim succeeded in producing a unique society which was also economically successful. Moreover, it had an effect on hundreds of thousands of volunteers, who witnessed how a socialist system can be successful without resorting to violence. This was anathema to many leaders in the Western World, particularly the United States. They demanded that once in power Israel’s right-wing parties destroy the kibbutz way of life.

Hyperinflation and bureaucracy as political weapons

This plan was implemented during the hyperinflation of the 1970s and the successive rise to power of right-wing parties. Kibbutzim which were growing at some 10 percent a year in real terms were forced to pay 20 percent interest to banks in real terms. Policies were implemented which ensured that the kibbutzim had as much chance of succeeding economically as an ice cube in the Sahara. Today there are percentually some three times as many farmers in Europe as in Israel. European governments and the United States support farmers. Israel — where agriculture is mostly the domain of collective communities such as the kibbutzim and moshavim — does the opposite.

Idealists are no match for greedy businessmen

One of the reasons successive governments found it so easy to destroy the kibbutzim is that people who base their policies on humane ideologies are not successful in competing with businesses and governments which cut corners and stop at nothing to obtain money. Kibbutzim were among the few industries in Israel which played by the rules, helping to ensure their destruction.

Periphery hoax helps destroy kibbutz way of life

The neglection of “the periphery” has been a major hoax whose real intention is the destruction of the kibbutz lifestyle. For instance, successive governments have helped import millions of vehicles while neglecting public transport in “the periphery”`. Today it is impossible to live on a kibbutz without a car since there is no public transport, helping to ensure the breakup of communal life. Healthcare and other social services in “the periphery” are poor or non-existent. Investments are minuscule.

Illogical regulations are not all that illogical

Many wonder at the many thousands of regulations in Israel which make no sense at all. Many of these government regulations guarantee that the kibbutz lifestyle has no chance of surviving. Today’s government considers housing as something which must make a profit for middlemen and real estate developers. Kibbutzim — if they receive a permit to build housing — must pay a hefty sum which they often cannot afford.

No socialism and no free market

People living on communal settlements find it nearly impossible to establish a business due to insurmountable bureaucracy. Fruit sold by kibbutzim for one shekel is sold by supermarkets for 7 shekels a piece. Government rules ensure that the market is monopolistic, not free. Although Israel leads the world in solar technology you just won’t see much on homes in “the periphery”, with the exception of boilers from the 1950s. Technology is for export. Investments are for mega-projects, not to help homes and communities produce their own power.

Imposing a foreign economic system based on exploitation is restraining Israel’s enormous vitality. Were the people of Israel free to live as they pleased then Israel’s economy would again blossom at an unforeseen rate. A return of idealism would invigorate Israeli life.

Israeli center and left and Jews in the diaspora should support kibbutz lifestyle instead of the Golden Calf

Israel’s opposition and diaspora Jews should become involved in social issues, instead of sacrificing them for debates on foreign policy. They should also become involved in promoting the revival of Zionism and helping to resurrect what remains of the kibbutz lifestyle. Israel’s greatest problem is the ongoing assault on its spirit and social fabric by an ideology which has replaced Zionism with the Golden Calf.““““““

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel on October 1, 2023 after spending more rhan 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He is currently milking cows on a kibbutz after living for five months in Haifa. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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