Kibbutz 2011: Sin and Sentence
An Oligarch's Fate
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“But kibbutzim still exist,” a reader of The Cross of Bethlehem wrote me. That was true, but only in name. The Communist society—money and private property weren’t allowed there— where I grew up had collapsed in the 1990s; giving place to a Capitalist oligarchy. In early 2011, I got a reminder of that, together with a gloomy proof that the bad leadership that ran the old system had survived and was committing the same leadership errors.
A leader is measured during difficult tests. Then, there are two criteria for evaluating him, or her. Was he faithful to his preaching? Then, was he a Good Shepherd? The latter gives his life for his sheep. That’s how we can truly differentiate between good and evil leaders. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep said Jesus in John 10:11.
Most leaders fail. In 2006, the Israeli army was led, only for the second time in its history, by an air force general; Dan Halutz was his name. Traditionally that's a position held by officers from the ground forces, the “green army,” as it is known in Israel. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz decided to favor air strikes during the Second Lebanese War while holding back the green army, since—as he phrased that—“he didn’t trust them enough.” In parallel, while the order to begin the attack was given, he rushed to his bank in order to sell his stocks. Both decisions were bad. The second showed his true allegiance: a golden calf. He sacrificed his sheep in order to make financial gains. Evil and devil. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it (Luke 17:33).
In rare occasions one can see an evil leader—with a lifetime of atrocities towards his own sheep—reaching a turning point and offering a sincere dialogue which opens the path of peace. Yitzhak Rabin did that and was ruthlessly assassinated. Rabin lived as a sinner and died one, yet in his incomplete change, he proved there is hope for a better future.
Then, there is an especially abhorrent type of leader.They say let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die (Isaiah 22:13). They eat and drink at the expense of their sheep, thinking the feast would last forever. Seldom have we seen them punished while still in this world. Boaz Aflal turned out being such a rare case.
The term “Poll Tax” is so unusual nowadays that I must define it. Poll Tax is a head tax (“poll” is an old term for “head”), a tax calculated per skull alive. In the USA, it was required for voting in parts of the country. In such a way, poor people were disenfranchised, especially African Americans, Native Americans, Irish and others. As such, it is considered highly unjust. In November 1990, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK since 1979, resigned after failing to impose a Poll Tax. The Poll Tax Riots that eventually led to her resignation are sometimes called the Battle of Trafalgar; hinting also at their main location and their seriousness.
In The Cross of Bethlehem, I described my experiences in a Jordan Valley kibbutz. Back then, personal ownership and money were banned, creating an almost utopian Communist society. However, a small group of members—an oligarchy—rotated among the top administrative positions. They never participated in the almost forced work other members performed. Kids were forcibly volunteered to the harshest works (cleaning the fish tanks, fishing during stormy nights in the Mediterranean Sea and other types of legal methods of torture), while adults never volunteered. It was a bubble, a state within a state, detached from normal society and its rules. It’s the only human society that attempted to destroy the institution of family, replacing it by ever-spreading-evil-rumors Big Brothers. It was also an almost integral part of the Histadrut, a workers union almost as strong as the state, so strong it was often called “state-within-state.” Both claimed to belong to the working class, while de facto they were thinly disguised employers. In the 1990s, the bubble exploded. The Histadrut was downsized, and the kibbutz died. Most of them are still out there—long, sharp knives still in their claws—but in a privatized version. From Communism they moved into a wild version of Capitalism.
This is where we meet Mr. Boaz Aflal, member of Kibbutz Iftah in the Galilee. Now in his late sixties, he occupied a variety of financial posts in the kibbutz and related regional organizations. That means that in during my childhood in a Jordan Valley kibbutz, he was part of the leading oligarchy, a leader by all means. He drank and ate while ordering young kids to work at the fish pools. Nowadays he has become a founder of “Pensia Barosh,” an organization fighting for retirees’ benefits. The name was meant to mean “Pension First,” however—Hebrew being Hebrew—it means also “Pension in the Head.” This shows we are dealing here with another Dan Halutz fighting for his golden calf. But, I’m rushing ahead. Why should a Commie worry about his pension?
“In the Kibbutz Movement, the departure from equality is being called ‘renewal,’ a kibbutz pays its founders NIS 2,870 a month while the community managers and the industry executives, and not just them, get six times that, even eight or 10 times,” Aflal said in a recent interview. “The pensioners get what’s left after everyone else gets his share. The longtime members now have no rights.”
He also claims that “They can no longer buy a birthday present for their grandchildren. They cannot rent a car from the kibbutz once a month to visit their children in the city. I'm not talking about a trip abroad.”
The renewed kibbutzim—75% of the kibbutz movement members—forwent their central principle of equal support for every member throughout his or her lifetime. Instead, they decided, retirees would receive pension payments from kibbutz revenues, provident funds and various special funds. They pay their retirees the minimum allowed by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Registrar for Cooperative Associations: NIS 2,870 a month. Other kibbutzim still provide for their members. This is strange. Kibbutzim are still rich, producing over eight billion dollars per year. The level of poverty described by Boaz Aflel is a sign the new oligarchy is implementing the same discrimination it experienced from its predecessors.
However, that’s not all. “The renewed kibbutzim are usually privatized to the bone. Members cover their own medical and transportation expenses, which are basic universal needs, especially if the kibbutz is in an outlying area, and especially if the member is no longer young,” he added and continued “… pensioners pay a head tax, under such euphemisms as “community tax.” People who earn NIS 3,000 and those who earn NIS 30,000 pay this tax. Progressive taxes are quickly disappearing. The renewed kibbutz, which for some reason is still held up as an example of equality and social cohesion, is exacerbating the disparities among its members. Something else could have been expected from a group that pretends to lead the most socially conscious lifestyle… no one mentions how they collect this head tax, which ranges from NIS 300 to NIS 1,300 a month.” That’s up to 45% from an already insignificant pension. The Poll Tax supported by Margaret Thatcher—an iron bastion of ruthless capitalism—has finally been implemented, though by former Communists!
Feeling compassion towards Boaz Aflal is easy. He is an old man unable to visit his children. Yet, dear Boaz, when you were younger, you robbed the childhood of many. God is teaching you something, dear Boaz, listen to Him instead of running with a pension in your head. I know you won’t read the New Testament, so let me dedicate to you a text from Isaiah (10:1-3): Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?
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