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In last week's election, 33.25 percent of kibbutniks voted for Kadima compared with 33 percent for Labor, the first time the party that helped found the country did not carry this sector.

"The Kibbutz Movement was the banner of the Labor Party, and the party was our home," said an activist at the party's kibbutz division yesterday.

The election results, however, seem to indicate that the banner has been brought down and the house is crumbling. The discrepancy between turnout for Kadima and Labor was just 219 votes and illustrates "an important crossroads," according to the former head of the Kibbutz Movement, Muki Tzur.

At Tzur's kibbutz, Ein Gev on the shore of Lake Kinneret, Kadima beat Labor by 10 percent. Ein Gev is also the home of the Kibbutz Movement's current secretary, Ze'ev Shor. Shor heads Labor's kibbutz division, the largest and strongest of the party with its 11,000 members.

"This is a major failure," Shor said. "Voters told us, 'go into the opposition, learn a few lessons and come back differently.'"

Echoing many others in his party, Shor said the fear campaign by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman led many kibbutzniks to vote for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni. He said many members told him their hands shook while they voted.

Yona Ventura, a member of the Ashdot Yaakov Meuhad kibbutz who chose Kadima, said kibbutz members were attracted by Livni's perceived ability to effect change.

"In the past whoever didn't vote for Labor was considered a traitor, but the kibbutz isn't what it once was, and that's reflected in everything," she said.

"It's not that most of the members at Ein Gev identify with [Tzachi] Hanegbi or [Roni] Bar-On," said Tzur, referring to two leading Kadima MKs. "They identify with the fear spread by Lieberman and Bibi [Netanyahu]. That is also part of the Labor upbringing, which says: 'You vote for someone even if you don't want them. It's true that this member isn't good enough, but the alternative is even worse.'

"For years, the Kibbutz Movement believed that its power lay in its political identification. It paid a heavy price for that identification, and on the other hand received a lot from it."

The Kibbutz Movement, he said, "transformed from a movement of believers into a group of people weighing costs and benefits, and the cracks grew deeper and deeper. It's not certain the link has been broken between the Kibbutz Movement and the Labor Party, but the emergency lights are flashing."

Shlomo Glazer, a spokesman for Labor's kibbutz division, sees the election results as an extension of the privatization process.

"An extended economic crisis led us to privatization, and 10 years of a difficult security situation along the periphery brought not only privatization of property, but of security matters, and of people's awareness. Collectivism is finished."

Kibbutz members' limited representation (Labor's Orit Noked, Kadima's Shai Hermesh and Meretz's Haim Oron) is further proof that times are changing. In the early years of the state, the Knesset held no fewer than 17 kibbutzniks.

Tzur says the reduction in kibbutz representation is part of a process by which the kibbutz community "turned into an interest-based movement and called on its members to vote for the representative that will protect its interests."

"In the past, the movement approached politics with the motto 'We are harnessed to the nation's objectives.' Now this has become blurred, and the movement's representatives in the Knesset are proportionate with its share of the population, not with its dreams."