Almost since the birth of the kibbutz a hundred years ago, different communities have hived off into a handful of different federations that would represent their collective interests and various visions of communal life: religious vs. Marxist, staying small vs. growing bigger, etc. The past 20 years of demographic change and economic privatization, however, have weakened the power and influence of these federations. In fact, after several amalgamations, there is for all intents and purposes only one remaining federation, the Kibbutz Movement, that speaks for all secular kibbutzim.
Recently, two kibbutzim decided to break ties (for now at least) with the main federation over a dispute with the Labour Party (long the movement’s “voice” in the Israeli Parliament) about completing foundations for buildings that would house the children of kibbutz members. The source of the dispute: the two communities are located in the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea, on land captured after the Six Day War, in the much-contested region known alternatively (depending on where one perches on the political spectrum) as Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, or The Occupied Territories. To make historical matters more convoluted, one kibbutz—Beit HaAravah—had been founded in 1939, evacuated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and re-established as a military kibbutz outpost in 1980.
What seems like a small dispute—the kibbutzim only wanted to finish the foundations, not the actual buildings, but were ordered to destroy them—escalated into an ideological split. It’s a reminder of how recent changes to the kibbutz movement have made individual communities both more isolated from and independent of the larger kibbutz community—much like the members themselves in their own private lives.