Kibbutz factory in northern Israel
Kibbutz factory in northern IsraelIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Economics Minister Naftali Bennett is working on restructuring the commercial crowding in central Israel -- the region known in national parlance as "Hadera to Gedera" due to its southern and northern geographic boundaries. 

“The magnetism of the central region is a national disaster,” Bennett said in a recent meeting with representatives of kibbutz industry.

Most of Israel’s Jewish population is centered in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regions, both central commercial hubs that connect Israel domestic markets and those around the world.

Nevertheless, Israel must make other parts of the country more attractive, Bennett maintained. “We plan to increase the benefits of living outside central Israel, to create a ‘reverse magnetism’ that will boost our hold in the Galilee and Negev,” he explained. “We didn’t build the country with air trade, and that’s not how countries are built,” he added.

He noted the kibbutz movement’s historic contribution to expanding Israel’s borders. “From the beginning of modern Zionism, the borders were set at the last furrow plowed by the Zionist settlers. Even today, each kibbutz provides employment in its area, and prevents foreign elements from taking hold of state land,” he said.

Bennett contended that Israel can learn from kibbutz communities when it comes to employer-employee relations as well, he said. He praised the kibbutz movement for finding a healthy balance between a free economy and protection for workers.

But the kibbutz leadership has been feeling increasingly victimized, with a groundswell of discontent developing among the movement.

Kibbutz Movement secretary Eitan Broshi warned over the weekend that government laws regarding land use, limits on business competition, and the recent decision to charge VAT on fruits and vegetables all threaten kibbutz industries.

Kibbutz communities are considering a change of tactics, he said, “To make kibbutz communities partners in shaping national policy, instead of its victims.”

The primarily rural communities were originally built as cooperatives based on a socialist or communist model, but most have since privatized, partly due to changes in Israel's social fabric, and partly in order to survive economically.

Chairman Yonatan Basi of the Kibbutz Industrial Association said the public response to kibbutz industries’ success has been disappointing. Basi pointed to the recent sale of WAZE to Google, which earned positive media attention and praise from the Prime Minister, “while similar instances in kibbutz industry were met with headlines that showed jealousy of the earnings of those who were partners in the industry’s success, who built it with their own hands.”