The centenary of Degania has already started a outpouring of articles about 100 years of kibbutz life and philosophy. Some of the writing has been detailed and well-informed; some of it, less so. (I’m hoping mine falls in the former category!)
A worthy addition to the historical discussion about the importance of the kibbutz is a recent posting, by Lawrence Joffe, on the website of the Jewish Quarterly (with an unfortunately dodgy weblink to it). In a short space, Joffe gives a thorough history of the kibbutz movement, but he also evaluates its legacy from many critical angles, asking when it has—and when it hasn’t—lived up to its high ideals, including the movement’s often ambivalent relations with the original Arab residents and the waves of new Jewish immigrants in Israel/Palestine.
His post is peppered with specific details and historical facts and figures that bring the story to life. I only found one error with which to quibble: “In 2007 Degania A again led the way,” he writes, “this time by becoming the first kibbutz to be privatised.” Not true: by 2007, according to stats compiled by Dr. Shlomo Getz, at the University of Haifa, and his American research colleagues, 65% of the 264 kibbutzim had voted in differential salaries—the Rubicon of privatization. Degania was a latecomer to the capitalist love-in, not a pioneer.
Joffe is much better at analyzing the kibbutz movement’s evolving political philosophy and its tricky relationships with Israel’s ever-changing parliamentary parties. He makes the important point that attitudes to the current “situation” vary from kibbutz to kibbutz, and likely kibbutznik to kibbutznik, now more than ever—that it’s a stretch to say there is anything that resembles a unified “movement” anymore.
I like that he mentions the ecological innovations underway at Kibbutz Lotan, and how he concludes his essay on a note of hope, by citing two communities that similarly impressed me with their commitment to Arab-Israeli relations in good times and bad: the Givat Haviva Institute (founded by the the Kibbutz Artzi federation) and Kibbutz Eshbal, the “youngest” official kibbutz, which runs the Galil Arab-Israeli School. I’ll write more about both places in upcoming posts from my own trip.