The Kibbutzim Feel Like They've Been Cheated

Suckers three times, because his kibbutz is one of the 60 economically strong kibbutzim whose involvement in the debt settlement arrangement for the kibbutzim was only contributory: they did not benefit from the debt forgiveness and in keeping with the principle of mutual responsibility among the kibbutzim, they were obligated by the Kibbutz Movement to pay from their own pockets for the improvement of the economic situation of other failing kibbutzim.

Now, when they are being asked to donate 25 percent of the Tnuva shares to the state as well, 17 of these 60 kibbutzim are saying no.

Just three months ago the kibbutzim reached a final agreement with the government. This arrangement, which effectively consisted of four separate arrangements, covered the erasure of kibbutz debts totaling NIS 18.4 billion and the rescheduling of the repayment of an additional NIS 9 billion. The state bore the main cost of the arrangement, with the banks shouldering the rest.

In exchange, the kibbutzim transferred 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of land to the state with an estimated real estate value of NIS 1.5 billion, although some claim this value could triple when the land is developed. In addition, the kibbutzim committed to transferring 25 percent of their Tnuva shares to the state and the banks. Based on the Apax deal, the shares in question are worth about $110 million, while the state's portion of the shares is valued at $70 million.

Even according to the most optimistic estimates, the assets paid by the kibbutzim (in exchange for the erasure and rescheduling of NIS 27 billion in debt) are not worth more than NIS 4 billion. The arrangement's supporters claim that any calculation must also include the fact that by agreeing to the arrangement the state prevented a humanitarian and social tragedy; without the arrangement, the 120,000 affected kibbutz members would have been out on the street, with no property and no pensions. The state would also not have been able to generate any revenue from the privatization of the banks, as absent an arrangement it would have been impossible to sell the banks, which were in a de facto state of bankruptcy. The arrangement's proponents are probably right, and the reality is that the kibbutzim paid a relatively small sum for being saved from financial ruin.

This still does not prevent the kibbutzim from coming out of the deal feeling like suckers. It turns out that not only the 17 strongest kibbutz, but also the weakest kibbutzim - the ones whose debts were erased - share this feeling, mainly because the kibbutzim were forced to give up land and Tnuva shares, while the moshavim received a much more generous debt arrangement and were not required to pay anything at all. Now the kibbutzim are demanding an explanation and accusing the Kibbutz Movement's leadership in the 1990s of failing its responsibility by agreeing to the terms of the arrangement.

"The concession of the Tnuva shares was made in good faith," said a senior official in the Kibbutz Movement. "No one in the kibbutz leadership imagined that Tnuva would ever be sold or privatized. This was during another period, and our representatives in the debt arrangement negotiations signed because they believed the promissory note would never be called."

So now the truth is out: the kibbutzim never thought they would have to hand over Tnuva shares in exchange for the debt erasure granted to them. They thought that like the moshavim, they would be able to evade repaying the state. Now that the repayment date has arrived, the kibbutzim are not only angry but doing everything they can to reduce the sum the state will receive for the NIS 27 billion arrangement.

The kibbutzim have now won Apax's support, which has announced that it will not purchase Tnuva if the state insists on continuing to hold 6.75 percent of the enterprise's shares. Apax is demanding that the state sell its shares immediately and cease to be a shareholder. This, while the kibbutzim retain the right to hold shares as well as the option to sell their shares to Apax at the deal price over the next three years. This means that the kibbutzim can benefit from an increase in Tnuva's value under Apax management, and are guaranteed that the value of their shares will not decline in the next three years.

"Like demanding ransom," is how the Kibbutz Movement leadership defined the state's request for the same rights in the deal as those enjoyed by the kibbutzim. NIS 18.4 billion will apparently not make them change their minds.