PM Lauds Kibbutz Role in Building, Protecting State

Netanyahu: We know very well how to defend ourselves and will continue building our country, like we have done since Deganya was established.

The heat did not seem to have any effect on singer Sarahle Sharon on Sunday, as the kibbutznik called on the cabinet "join in with the clapping" a moment before Israel's first cabinet meeting held at a kibbutz - the country's first such collective, Kibbutz Deganya in the Lower Galilee - was to begin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went up to Sharon, embraced her and signaled to his ministers to join in the singing.

Cabinet meeting at Deganya Oct. 17, 2010 (Dror Artzi)
Dror Artzi

Ninety-eight years ago, the room in which the cabinet held its meeting was a dairy. It is hard to imagine that during the intense early days of the ideological face-off between the Labor movement and the rightist camp, it would have been possible for a Likud government to hold a cabinet meeting at one of the most prominent symbols of the socialist Zionist movement.

The cabinet meeting caused great excitement in the kibbutz movement. The secretary of the movement, Ze'ev Shor, described the event as "a historic day for us."

Aharon Yadlin, who won the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and is a member of Kibbutz Hatzerim, described the meeting as "an exciting position to be in. This is a salute by the government to the kibbutz movement for its role in settlement, in the economy and in education."

In his address to the cabinet, Netanyahu made reference to the site at the entrance to the kibbutz where a Syrian tank was stopped in 1948, and linked it to the situation today.

"Here, during the War of Independence, the assault from the north on the State of Israel was blocked," said Netanyahu. "However, the threats and the challenges have not ended, and only several days ago we bore witness to new threats, incitement and challenges to the State of Israel, and unfortunately we see that Lebanon is quickly become another Iranian proxy."

"We in Israel will know very well how to protect ourselves and continue building our country, like we have done since Deganya was established, since the State of Israel was established," he said.

Before the meeting began, Netanyahu visited the Kinneret Cemetery, where leaders of the kibbutz movement including Berl Katznelson, Moshe Hess, Dov Ber Borochov and Avraham Herzfeld are buried. Near the grave of Israeli poet Rachel, Netanyahu paused to read some of her poems.

"This place speaks to the entire nation of Israel," he said.

The cabinet yesterday approved a plan to preserve heritage sites on kibbutzim, including NIS 1.7 million to refurbish the Kinneret Cemetery, which is visited annually by tens of thousands of people.

An additional NIS 22 million will go toward preserving other kibbutz sites, including the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum.

For all the excitement, kibbutz movement leaders also protested the hardships they say many kibbutzim have experienced. Shor said construction has stalled.

"The kibbutzim are situated along the borders and want to take in more people, but we have been experiencing a building freeze for a long time," he said.

The cabinet voted to allocate NIS 1 billion over the coming decade for helping more people move away from the center of the country and upgrading infrastructure in rural areas.