Publication Date

April 2018


Gilbert Skillman


College of Social Studies


English (United States)


The kibbutz model emerged in the early 20th century in Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine, a consumer and producer cooperative that proved cost-effective in spreading Jewish settlement along the imagined borders of a future Jewish state. Furthermore, the ideological commitment to socialism and Zionism in early kibbutzim (pl.) fell in line with the ideological commitment to Labor Zionism in the Zionist movement at large. As of 2015, 75% of the approximately 260 self-identified kibbutzim in Israel had departed from the above-described model in favor of a safety-net economy, wherein members receive private and differential salaries but pay an internal tax to the community to ensure a certain minimum living standard. Existing scholarship explores and explains the mass transition of kibbutzim from need-based model to safety net model (a process known as ?privatization? or ?renewal?). With that scholarship in mind, I trace the history of a single kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, Beit Zera as it relates to the evolution of the Israeli state. I argue that Beit Zera?s renewal is best understood as resulting from the shifting relationship between kibbutz and state. Specifically, the kibbutz?s relationship to the state is best understood in terms of two related variables: consistency in ideological underpinnings and instrumentality to state-building processes. The kibbutz model emerged in the 1910s as instrumental to and consistent with the Zionist project. Yet by the late 1980s, it?s organizational precepts were at odds with dominant Israeli political ideology (anti-Labor Zionist) and with the direction of national policy (towards economic liberalization). Interviews with Beit Zera?s members about the road to privatization reveal the connectivity between this shifting relationship and kibbutz members? perceptions of the viability and desirability of the original need-based model.



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