The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that kibbutzim may not seek to acquire public lands for free, challenging an institution older than the state itself.
The court’s decision came in response to an appeal by the “Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow”, an NGO representing Mizrahi Jews in Israel, which has claimed kibbutzim - which are overwhelmingly Ashkenazi - enjoy privileged access to land resources, while limiting the ability of prospective members to join kibbutzim.
The issue dates back to the early years of the Kibbutz Movement, when the communal farming towns were given free land by the Jewish National Fund, and later by the State of Israel.
While more than 90% of the land in Israel is owned by the state, kibbutzim enjoyed de facto free ownership of their land, receiving exclusive control over large tracts of farmland without the leasing payments required from other communities or private owners.
The policy was originally intended to subsidize the development of Israel’s agricultural industry, and to promote the settlement of the periphery.
In recent years, however, kibbutz populations have dwindled and agricultural activity has declined. Many kibbutzim have transitioned from farming to tourism and hospitality, industrial production, or simply rented out their land to private enterprises, making huge profits in the process.
Some kibbutzim have sought to cement their claim to the state land they used free of charge for decades, transforming public property into kibbutz real estate, owned outright by members.
The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow challenged this process, appealing to the Supreme Court to clarify the limits on the rights of kibbutzim to claim ownership.
In Wednesday’s decision, the court ruled that kibbutzim may not initiate legal proceedings to seek ownership of public lands without payment.
Sigal Harush Yehonatan, a spokesperson for the MDR, spoke with Arutz Sheva following the court’s decision.
“The Lands Forum of the Mizrahi Rainbow participated in the appeal as an amicus curiae [friend of the court] against the Kibbutz Movement, which sought to allow joint cooperatives to gain ownership of land as communities, rather than as individuals, and thus avoid the need to pay the full price.”
“The court said to the Kibbutz Movement today as it did 14 years ago, you cannot get this land for free. The land belongs to everyone and if you want to acquire it as a collective, you need to pay for it. What it effectively [the decision] did was reject their [the Kibbutz Movement’s] appeal.”