Histadrut
Through the Years

There is an inescapable process in a population that is divided into two peoples, one dominant, the other dominated. No! The State of Israel will not be such a monstrosity. It was not for this that we have prayed two thousand years.
- Ya'akov Talmon, 1973

1950 1955 1966 1969 1972 1975 1978 1979 1980 1989


1950
Joseph Dunner, The Republic of Israel, Its History and Its Promise, Whittlesey House, New York:

The Jewish Labor Movement, represented by the General Federation of Jewish Labor, or the Histadruth, founded its collective farms, its cooperatives in transportation and urban development, a worker's bank, a country-wide health system, and other social and economic institutions which made the National Home the most progressive commonwealth in the Middle East -- and not only in the Middle East...

[British Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison, speaking in the House of Commons in 1936:]
"I have seen these Jewish agricultural settlements. They are one of the most wonderful moral demonstrations of the human race in the whole of the civilized world.... Here are colonies in which people are working on a voluntary cooperative basis with no element of dictatorship or compulsion behind them, actually reclaiming soil hitherto unfertilized and untillable and making it productive. It is being done not as a mere capitalist exploiting business but directly in association with and under the control of the great Jewish Trade Union organisation, the Jewish Federation of Labor, which is one of the finest Trade Union organisations. One of the most elevating moral efforts in voluntary communism that I have ever seen is among these agricultural communities in Palestine. I have seen these fine young people coming from various countries.... I came back with a humble feeling that I should like to give up this game of House of Commons and politics and join them in the clean, healthy life that they are living. It is one of the most wonderful manifestations in the world..."

The Histadruth... embraces over 75 per cent of all wage earners in Israel. This dominant position of Histadruth is due to the fact that it is not only the representative of organized employed labor but also the largest single employer in Israel, controlling numerous cooperatives and holding companies, operating transportation, industry, and banking. During the period of the British Mandate the Histadruth organized many agencies which are customarily the concern of government, such as a labor educational system and a special health service for workers and their families. It is for this reason that the Histadruth has sometimes been referred to as a state within a state...

The social impulses permeating the Jewish colonization work are not confined to the agricultural sectors. Nowhere in the world have workers succeeded to the same extent in creating and operating cooperative enterprises in the cities.

Much of Israel's motor transport -- passengers and freight -- is in the hands of a powerful cooperative, Egged. Over a hundred cooperatives are engaged in production and public services. The urge to permanency which characterizes the Jew of Israel expresses itself in his desire, not to own real estate but to have a home of his own. In many instances the home-building cooperatives, instead of erecting separate small houses for every individual member, have resorted to building large blocks of modernistic apartment houses in which each member is allotted an apartment with a share in courts and gardens...

The Histadruth (Jewish Federation of Labor) maintained a far-reaching net of kindergartens and elementary schools in the agricultural settlements and the cities. Its own educational department supervised educational activities in some ninety different localities. In addition it had created a number of distinct schools corresponding in their curriculum to American high schools. It insisted on educating the children of its members in the spirit of the Jewish Movement in the National Home, of instilling in them a readiness for agricultural and industrial pioneering, of awakening in them the idea of mutual help and love for social justice. There is no Histadruth school without gardens cultivated by the pupils themselves, without special workshops in which the rudiments of carpentry and other trades are taught. In the Kvutzoth (communal settlements) the children raise in their own school gardens most of the vegetables which come to their tables. They help the cooks; they take turns in washing dishes; they clean their dining room after each meal. Here education through work, the ideal of progressive educators, is daily and self-evident practice.


1955
Emanuel Rackman, Israel's Emerging Constitution, 1948-51, Columbia University Press, New York:
The ha-Po'el ha-Mizrahi (Mizrahi Worker) was composed almost exclusively of Orthodox working-class elements. In addition to being a political party, it fulfilled many functions which the Histadrut performed for its members, such as finding employment and paying benefits in times of distress. Though there is now some cooperation between ha-Po'el ha-Mizrahi and the Histadrut, ha-Po'el ha-Mizrahi was founded in 1921 as the Mizrahi Labor Federation by a group of workers who rejected the secular Histadrut. A number of collective and cooperative agricultural settlements, consisting entirely of Orthodox members, are affiliated with the party...

At the beginning of the school year 1950-51, about a third of the children were enrolled in the "general" schools, another third in Histadrut schools, a fourth in the Mizrahi and Agudat schools, and the remainder in the schools of extremists and in the private schools which received no government subsidies but met the requirements of the compulsorty education law.

The partisan character of the school system was the subject of considerable criticism in World Zionist congresses, and the perpetuation of the condition in the State of Israel has troubled many. As a matter of fact, the Histadrut undertook an intensive campaign to enroll in its schools more of its members' children, thus to prepare them for unflinching loyalty to its ideology. It even introduced some religious instruction to satisfy those of its members who were orthodox. This trend might have been strengthened by the growth of one faction within the Histadrut -- ha-'Oved ha-Dati (Religious Worker) -- and by the Histadrut's avowed purpose to gain members from among the new immigrants, most of whom are orthodox...

The problem which precipitated the resignation of the Government in 1951 and the need for new elections pertained to the education of children in the immigrants' reception and work camps. The United Religious Bloc had been complaining for months that in the immigrants' centers coercion was exercised against religious immigrants to make them register their children in Histadrut schools. This was accomplished, they asserted, by vesting jurisdiction over the schools of such centers in the Mapai-Dominated Department of Culture, which, it was charged, even prohibited access to the camps by rabbis or religious teachers.


1966
Meyer Levin, The Story of Israel, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York:
Ben-Zvi labored to put together a community structure, a Jewish national council to work with the Mandate administration. His wife, on a vacant lot near their cabin in Jerusalem, conducted her farm school for girls. Over the years her pupils raised seedlings to forest the entire corridor of barren hills from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

Ben-Gurion meanwhile worked to bring the labor groups together into one big union, called the Histadruth. He became secretary. It was a union like no other union in the world; during the British administration the Histadruth became known as the "other government" of Palestine, and later, in the State of Israel, its impressive group of buildings in Tel Aviv became jestingly known as "the Kremlin."

From its earliest days the union, to tide over unemployment, became an employer. It contracted for road construction, started a cement factory, gave loans to kibbutzim for farm machinery. Dozens of cooperatives and corporations were formed for various tasks. As the Histadruth grew, it became Palestine's biggest business operator, and the largest employer in the land. One day its construction company was to go far afield to lay pipelines and build hotels for newborn nations in Africa; its shipline was to carry the products of many of its factories to the far ends of the earth.

The union sponsored a chain of kibbutzim, and a marketing co-op to sell milk and eggs and other farm products in the cities and towns. It started a daily paper, Davar (The Word), for a long time the biggest in the country. It started its own publishing house, translating classics into Hebrew, and it had its own theatre. Long before general medical programs were introduced in other countries, it gave its members a complete family medical service.

With the union, too, there fitted a whole nest of cooperatives. Most powerful was that of the bus drivers, which became so successful that for years the bus drivers were known as Palestine's "bourgeoise." Thus, through the dynamic Twenties, a vigorous semisocialist community was growing in Palestine, far ahead, in its ideas, of the labor movements that brought on the "welfare states" in France and England and the "New Deal" in America.

The dynamic labor leaders around Ben-Gurion set the pace for the building of the homeland. This decade saw growth of the collective kibbutzim, and also the farm cooperatives in moshavim. Settlers were sent on missions abroad, to bring back better breeds of cattle and poultry. There were experiments with crops unknown to Palestine, and with new industries. Many of the kibbutzim began to build factories on their farms, so as to spread their economic base.


1966
Ronald Sanders, Israel: The View from Masada, Harper & Row, New York:
The Histadrut was, in fact, in a unique historial situation; it had not only to serve as an instrument for organizing workers and as the creator of such welfare institutions as a system of socialist medicine but also had to be the medium for the development of an economy. In time the Histadrut became as much an entrepreneur -- and a large-scale one, at that -- as it was an organizer of labor. From the point of view of Histadrut ideologists in the early days, this arrangement made the organization all the more a potential instrument for the creation of a society that would be socialist and worker-owned from the outset. It is only in recent years that contradictions have clearly emerged from the fact of being both a national labor union and the largest employer of labor in the country.

The formation of these rural and urban socialist institutions, which served as the major foundation stones of an emerging national community, was the work of a rather homogeneous group, which consisted almost entirely of Jews from Russia and Poland. Members of the old Oriental Jewish community of Palestine were scarcely to be found in its midst. A trickle of newer Oriental immigrants from Yemen and elsewhere became members of Histadrut unions, but their inferior educational backgrounds largely excluded them from positions among the leadership. As for the other major Ashkenazi group, the German Jews, they arrived late in Palestine and in relatively small numbers, and found themselves treated as a somewhat alien element by the Eastern European establishment. Furthermore, German Zionists tended to be more middle class in their outlook than the Eastern European pioneering elite, for whom socialism and Zionism were simply two aspects of a single ideal.


1969
Terence Prittie, Eshkol: The Man and the Nation, Pitman Publishing Corporation, New York:
the Histadrut, or General Federation of Labor... was formed in December 1920, with a mere 5000 members out of a total Jewish population of over 100,000. It was something more than a trade union, for among its principal aims there were the stimulation of large-scale immigration, employment service for immigrants, and the actual creation of a broadly based working class, in a country where formerly there had been only scattered agricultural settlements and rudiments of industry. Because of these additional aims and responsibilities, the Histadrut became one of the pillars of the Jewish community. Its rapid growth was assured as soon as large-scale immigration began. For the new immigrants were found gainful employment as fast as they arrived and were forced to look beyond the small shops, stands, and pushcarts of the typical Jewish small trader...

Since its foundation in 1920, it had developed into what one historian called a "labor commonwealth." From its original task of organizing trade unions and working out a policy of labor relations, the Histadrut had moved into many fields. It had become a large-scale owner of cooperative and industrial enterprises and, consequently, a large-scale employer. It acted as a welfare organization for the bulk of the Jewish community. It was a colonizing agency, with a close interest in the utilization of soil and water. It had its own educational programs, and played a big part in encouraging immigration. Continuously, as has already been mentioned, it was working out long term plans for the creation of an agricultural and industrial proletariat which was to be the dominant element in Jewish society in Palestine...

The Histadrut established its own contracting company, Solel Boneh (Pave and Build) in 1923. It went temporarily bankrupt but was reformed and prospered. T'nuva, the selling cooperative for the collective farms, was run by the Histadrut; so was the general cooperative society of Hamashbir Hamorkazi. Later on, the Histadrut was to organize the Egged bus company, the Mekorot water corporation, the Zim shipping line, and the El Al airline, to mention a few. In 1969 the Histadrut had a share of about 70 percent of Israeli agriculture, 40 percent of its building, and over 20 percent of its industry as a whole...

It has become a convention in Israel, especially among the young, to declaim against the "establishment." The term is held to mean the leadership circles of Mapai, the Histadrut, and all governmental agencies and related organizations. Among the complaints against the men of the establishment is a claim that they settle important decisions among themselves and do not consult public opinion; share important posts among themselves and do not allow a sufficient infusion of new blood; discourage positive and purposeful discussion and dish out well-worn clichés. A similar antiestablishment feeling has been increasingly evident in a great many democratic (and even some authoritarian) states since the late 1960s.


1972
Harry B. Ellis, Israel, One Land, Two Peoples, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York:
A key role in Israel's economy -- indeed, in the nation's entire life -- is played by Histadrut, or the General Federation of Labor. Americans are accustomed to powerful trade unions that represent the interests of workers. But Histadrut sits on both sides of the bargaining table. It is Israel's largest employer, as well an all-embracing trade union organization.

This dual role sprang from Histadrut's function during the British mandate. Founded in 1920, when Jewish workers in Palestine numbered 5000, Histadrut had to create jobs for incoming immigrants. There was no other agency to do this. The result was that the General Federation of Labor, through its ownership of enterprises, became employer as well as trade union. This duality persists, and today 90 percent of all Israeli workers are said to be affiliated in one way or another with Histadrut.

Two large construction firms -- Sodel Boneh and Koor, employing together about 40,000 workers -- belong to Histadrut. The labor organization owns one of the three largest banks in Israel and publishes a morning newspaper called Devar. Ships, insurance companies, and various types of cooperative societies are operated by Histadrut. This "state within a state," as it has been called, markets products grown and manufactured by kibbutzim. Histadrut owns outright less than 30 percent of Israeli enterprises, though it shares ownership of some other factories and services with private business.

"We all belong to Histadrut," explained an Israeli official, "for a simple reason. We want health insurance."

During the mandate Histadrut organized health insurance and social welfare benefits for Jewish workers. In part this function, too, was carried over into statehood. Today Histadrut, not the government, operates the nation's comprehensive health insurance plan, though other elements of social welfare are handled by the government.

Histadrut owns 16 hospitals, more than 1000 clinics, 16 rest homes, 260 pharmacies, and numerous other installations concerned with people's health. As a trade union organization -- representing blue collar, white collar, and professional workers -- and as the administrator of Israel's major health insurance plan, Histadrut directly touches the daily existence of most Israelis.


1972
Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism; Holt, Rinehart and Winston; New York:
In private life they [the second aliya] were modest; dandies and gourmets were not to be found among them. They could not understand how people could spend time and money on frivolities instead of concentrating on the really important things in life. The first American ambassador described the utterly primitive conditions in which Ben Gurion continued to live in Tel Aviv after he became prime minister. This egalitarianism was strongly rooted in the Russian-Jewish Socialist tradtion. At the first Histadrut conventions, speakers insisted that white-collar workers should on no account earn more than manual workers and stressed that it would be unseemly for trade union and party leaders to have a higher standard of living than the workers they represented. Differences in income remained for decades much smaller in the Palestinian labour movement than in the Soviet Union or other Communist countries. Even in the 1940s, a doorman at the Histadrut main building, father of seven children, was likely to get a higher salary than the chief executive of that body.

The men and women of the second aliya were firm believers in democracy, and regarded any attempt to curtail it, whether emanating from the extreme Left or the far Right, not just as political deviation but as a criminal act...

The General Federation of Trade Unions, the Histadrut, developed in conditions totally different from trade union movements elsewhere. The normal function of a trade union is to defend the interests of its members against the employers, and on occasion to provide certain social services not offered by the state. The problems facing Jewish workers in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s were of a different character. Since industry was as yet hardly developed, and private enterprise showed little enthusiasm for pioneering work, the Histadrut had to take initiative in creating work for its members and for those yet to come. The logic of events drove it into becoming the biggest employer in the country in addition to defending the interests of the employees. It was an anomalous situation to be sure. No one had planned it that way, and a great many problems grew from this duality. What, for instance, if the workers clashed with the management in a Histadrut enterprise?

The Histadrut came to act as an entrepreneur in agriculture (Tnuva, marketing the agricultural produce of all collective and cooperative settlements) and in the building industry (Solel Boneh built roads, houses and factories, and acquired stone quarries and brick-works). The Histadrut was the first to promote high-seas fishing, shipping, and even civil aviation in Palestine. It set up cooperative retail stores, urban housing offices, a workers' bank, a big insurance company (Hasneh), and countless medium-sized enterprises in industry, transport and agriculture... Koor, its industrial branch, controlled steel rolling mills, chemical plants, cement and glass factories, and held substantial interests in the timber and food-processing industries...

The share of the Socialist sector of the economy was most impressive, but to what extent was it still subject to democratic control? In theory, every member of the Histadrut was automatically a member of the Cooperative Association of Labour (Chevrat Ovdim), which functioned as the central organisation of all Histadrut enterprises and also as their owner. In theory, every member had a say in the management of Histadrut-owned enterprises. But in practice, as membership increased and economic activities multiplied, this right to share in decision-making became a dead letter... Resolutions were passed from time to time to give workers and clerical staff seats on administrative committees and a share in management as well as in financial surpluses. But these demands, as in other countries, encountered opposition on the part of the management, which jealously guarded its prerogatives.


1975
Noah Lucas, The Modern History of Israel, Praeger Publishers, New York:
Of an estimated 7000 Jewish workers in the country at the end of 1920, 4433 cast their votes for delegates to the Histadrut founding convention. On the basis of electoral participation the Histadrut claimed only 5000 members, indicating the extent of hostility or apathy among the workers themselves towards the aims of the pioneer movement. The total Histadrut membership at the time of its founding embraced about 11 per cent of the adult Jewish population of the country. Ahdut Ha'Avodah obtained approximately 42 per cent of the votes as compared with some 31 per cent to Hapoel Hatzair, 19 per cent to 'non-party' new immigrants and the rest going to a small left-wing dissident group. Thus the new immigrant group held the balance of power at the convention and it was they who in the event exerted the greatest influence in achieving unity and defining its terms in the structure of the new organization. Hence while the foundations of the movement had been laid by the second immigration, its crystallization in an enduring form was attributable to the impact of the third immigration...

It was resolved that the Histadrut would be composed of trade union associations organized by occupation. Membership in the Histadrut would be open to all workers who did not 'exploit' the labour of others. In addition to promoting trade union organization in a non-political basis the new body resolved to undertake activities in land settlement, work contracts, the improvement of working conditions and productivity, vocational training, co-operative trading and mutual aid, defence, the reception of immigrants and promotions of pioneer immigration from abroad, and the promotion of Hebrew language and culture. All institutions of the political parties hitherto operating in these spheres were to be transferred immediately to the jurisdiction of the Histadrut. It was resolved to establish a workers' bank to finance the movement's operations. At that time the penurious pioneers were unable to provide revenue for the functioning of the organization. The Workers' Bank was successfully established with the aid of a loan from the Zionist Organization and the sale of shares to sympathizers abroad. In its first years the organization was unable to support a full-fledged bureaucracy and was conducted by an informal part-time leadership. Ben-Gurion was appointed joint general secretary and he immediately impressed his imprint upon the movement by his contribution, together with Katznelson and others, to the drafting of a definitive constitution. This was completed and ratified in 1923.

Two threads of unity were woven through the resolutions of the Histadrut founding convention: the uncompromising national vision of large-scale organized immigration and pioneering land settlement, and the social vision of a self-sufficient workers' commonwealth...

The non-political rank and file looked to the established parties and indeed to any new parties as those were formed to articulate the issues and lead the movement in its periodic selection of policies and executive officials. Thus was the Histadrut fortuitously patterned as a parliamentary community on an unacknowledged federal basis. For although the Histadrut by constitution drew its authority from and was responsible to the mass of members rather than to the parties, there was no possibility of its functioning as a general framework of labour activity beyond the extent to which the separate parties sustained the consensus imparting unity to the framework.

Ben-Gurion reduced the manifold structural problems inherent in this endeavour to one essential issue: maintaining the class character of the movement. Apart from the technical issues involved in devising an organizational structure simultaneously serving trade union and co-operative units, the overriding substantive issue exercising Ben-Gurion was to forestall the emergence of a privileged class of co-operators with a higher standard of living than the hired workers who consumed their products and whose aid would have been needed by the co-operators to become established in the first place...

The founders of the Histadrut abhorred particularism within the labour movement. In the trade union sphere this meant the elimination or preclusion of any vestige of syndicalism. In the co-operative sphere the repugnant prototype was the 'irresponsible' narrow interest. The most vehement antipathy was reserved for the occasional co-operative group which had seceded from the movement upon achieving a secure standard of living... Not only in their selection of initiatives and in their investment decisions but above all in their pricing policies they must remember that their first obligation was to supply the needs of wage-earners. With the adoption of Ben-Gurion's draft constitution hired workers no less than co-operative entrepreneurs became full members of the co-operative movement, with an equal voice in its development...

By constitution all the profits of economic enterprise conducted by Hevrat Ovdim were committed automatically for re-investment. Although technically every worker in the Histadrut was a shareholder in Hevrat Ovdim with a voice in its management, he could not consume its dividends. In this doctrine lay the secret of the Histadrut's phenomenal growth to the status of the largest employer and largest creator of employment in the country. In the principle of the automatic reinvestment of all the surplus of labour enterprise lay the key to the power of the Israeli labour movement and the unusual form of socialist economy which it promoted. In the light of this principle the ownership of labour enterprise by the rank and file membership may be seen as a fiction. Ownership, if not control, was in effect public and national...

In addition to organizational unification of co-operative groups and hired workers, initiation of economic enterprises by the same central organ and obligatory reinvestment of the profits of labour enterprise, another novel feature of the co-operative constitution of the Histadrut was the appointment of men drawn from the ranks of the labour movement as managers of labour enterprises at the same wages as were paid to skilled workers. This led to the emergence of a group of labour leaders whose main role was entrepreneurial, and whose calibre was in later years to become the envy of the private capitalistic sector of the economy. The great saving in executive costs due to the idealism of the leaders (and their desire for power rather than personal economic gain) balanced the extra costs of operating plant in working conditions better than those which obtained under private capital, and so enabled labour enterprise to compete.

The first article of the 1923 constitution which remained in force until 1959 when the constitution as a whole was amended and brought up to date, listed the functions of the Histadrut under four main categories of activity: trade unionism on the basis of disciplined organization, economic enterprise on the basis of co-operation; education to be geared to the national integration of new immigrants; and the promotion of social welfare on the basis of mutual aid.

As to the fields of education and social welfare, the Histadrut promoted an intricate network of institutions embracing all members and their familiies, thereby implementing to some degree the social vision of a commonwealth of labour responsible for its own fate. Members' children were educated in schools run by the movement and dedicated to transmitting the labour ideology to the rising generation in the medium of modern Hebrew. In the field of social welfare the Histadrut absorbed the sickness fund of the agricultural workers' union founded in 1911 to promote the health of workers, provide them with medical service and insure them against the losses exacted by malaria and the other hazards of pioneering. The constitution now obliged all members to belong to the sickness fund and endowed the Histadrut with general responsibility for the health of the pioneering community.

Although the Borochovist rhetoric gave the Histadrut constitution the flavour of trade union militancy, in the early decades of the organization its educational and social welfare institutions and its economic enterprise were more vital than conventional trade union activities, especially in the absorption of newcomers. The social services and especially the health services provided by the Histadrut were by far its most important attraction for new members amongst the masses of immigrants...

As the Histadrut expanded it increased the range and improved the quality of the various social services it supplied to its members. Its responsibilities in education, health and welfare were consolidated until the social activities of the labour movement became a compreshensive social and cultural force reinforcing the voluntary character of autonomous national life. The Histadrut maintained its own network of schools from kindergarten to high-school level in which general education was combined with indoctrination in the 'religion of work'. It also established its own daily newspaper and publishing house, adult education institutions and youth movement. All members automatically belonged to the sickness fund which provided comprehensive medical care to their families, while other institutions of the labour movement catered to the needs of orphans, widows and the aged.

With the expansion and consolidation of the Histadrut a considerable bureacracy arose to administer its services and interests. After a decade of haphazard and rather tenuous central co-ordination the Histadrut by the early 'thirties achieved a position of central command over the range of labour institutions. Not until 1937 did the organization succeed in establish a central dues collecting agency. However the greater part of the revenue of the organization for the finnance of its administration continued until the end of the mandate to come from contributions of the American labour movement...

Although the Histadrut was predominantly urban in composition its co-operative activities were greatly influenced by the ideas and practices of the agricultural pioneers who had brought the comprehensive labour movement into being. These at no time exceeded a fifth of the total Histadrut membership. However, by dint of their ideological mobilization and high degree of discipline they created a network of sectarian institutions comprising one of the most powerful elements within the Histadrut during its formative years...

The urban boom inaugurated by the fourth immigration weakened the agricultural pioneer movement and exacerbated its divisions. In 1926 the work legion disbanded. After years of embroilment in conflict with the Histadrut leadership its members had moved so far in the direction of militant revolutionary socialism that its majority eventually renounced Zionism and made their way to the Soviet Union... The metapolitics of the agricultural movement brought about its organizational fragmentation, which in turn rigidified differences even while these declined in practical importance... The result was the creation of three separate kibbutz federations which within a few years converged in all practical particulars while at the same time their political differences became more pronounced...

Apart from its interest in land settlement financed by public funds the Histadrut also took economic initiative or made acquisitions in industry, construction, banking, retailing and trasportation. Passenger transport by road became a co-operative monopoly. However in all other branches of the economy the labor-controlled enterprises in the inter-war period comprised a relatively small part of the whole... Thus the private sector was much the more important foundation of Jewish economic life and development... The co-operative economy as a unit employed nearly a third of the Jewish labour force. The ideological and institutional mobilization of the labour movement enabled the Histadrut to 'deliver' the labour economy as a political power. The various groups in the private sector, by contrast, stood in relations of competition and were pronouncedly individualistic in outlook, politically dispersed and weakly motivated...

Having abandoned the synthesis of national and social goals to throw all its energies into the national struggle as newly defined, the Histadrut then found itself in 1948 up-staged by the sovereign government as the new centre of national leadership... Hence a conservative tendency began to manifest itself within the Histadrut allowing that what it sought to conserve was an innovative socialist undertaking against radical statist tendencies inherent in the new nationalism galvanized by independence...

The kibbutzim that remained within the Mapai orbit were not in fact influential in the making of high policy in their capacity as kibbutzim. It is true that a great many of the Mapai leaders and it functionaries in a wide span of public institutions had personal links with the kibbutz, but it was as Mapai leaders that they found themselves in the kibbutz movement rather than as kibbutz leaders that they had any peculiar influence within Mapai. Had there been a pronounced kibbutz influence in shaping national policy this would have been reflected in a socialist determination of the national strategy, which would have sought an accommodation with the Arabs other than a military resolution and other than partition. The kibbutzim had failed to have this influence when Ben-Gurion legitimized and pressed ahead the implementation of Jabotinsky's nationalist policy...

The Histadrut had traditionally been committed to an egalitarian wage policy in which differentials were limited to correspond with need as measured by the number of dependants maintained by the wage-earner. The policy of unregulated mass immigration, which the Histadrut fully supported, brought about a change in the approach to wages. Without Zionist or socialist predispositions, the newcomers could not be expected to give their best efforts to production except by means of financial incentives. In the midst of the rampant inflation of 1949 the Histadrut resolved that wages should be directly linked by incentive pay to productivity...

In 1950, as the Histadrut began to implement its productivity policy, differentials within the working population and between employees and the self-employed were in all probability narrower than anywhere else in the world... In exposing labour in this way to free market forces the Histadrut policy contributed to income stratification on the basis of duration of residence, since the immigrants were on the whole less skilled than the veteran population... For some years the Histadrut had to grapple to save the unity of the labour movement from the consequences of its own policies...

If the Histadrut abandoned its vision of a socialist economy, it continued to use its power to hold income stratification as between workers and other sections of the community to a minimum... Israel was still among the least pyramidic societies in the industrial world. Stratification nevertheless gave rise to social tensions which were exacerbated by a conjunction which came about, due to a variety of factors, between income and ethnic differentiation.

Duration of residence in the country, level of education and skill, age distribution and instability of income due to job insecurity at the lower levels all conspired to hold the immigrants from Asia and Africa at the bottom of the social scale... Integration was assisted by political, educational and welfare institutions, the army and intermarriage, but was insufficiently rapid to preclude cumulative processes of cleavage...

Relations between the Histadrut and the state became the most controversial issue within the party... Dayan and Peres publicly pressed for the nationalization of the health insurance services of the Histadrut, which were the underlying basis of its organizational strength. Lavon and his colleagues in the Histadrut saw this as an expression of the government's undue greed for power. Peres in 1960 voiced the most outspoken attack yet on the Histadrut, depicting it as a feudal barony intervening between the workers and his loyalty to the state, and ridiculing the concept of healing the sick as a prerogative of the labour movement. Ben-Gurion remained silent but at the same time hinted lucidly enough that Dayan and Peres had his backing on the issue... For the first time Histadrut leaders voiced direct criticism of Ben-Gurion.


1978
Nadav Safran, Israel, the Embattled Ally, The Belknap Press of Havard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts:
People of the Second Aliyah developed unions of rural and urban workers, cooperative enterprises, and mutual aid societies which became the foundation of the Histadrut -- the impressive General Federation of Jewish Workers... they gave a powerful impetus to the Return to the Soil movement and endowed it with an ideology that made a cult of manual labor, some of which persists today. They founded the kibbutz (collective settlement) movement which gave Palestine-Israel a unique institution and an instrument that rendered inestimable service to the Zionist endeavor and to the survival of Israel before becoming an exceptionally adaptable entrepreneurial unit... the people of the Third Aliyah were predominantly pioneers belonging to the Zionist-socialist movements and shared the ideologies and aspirations of the people of the second. They confirmed the patterns already set by their predecessors and brought some of the enterprises begun by them to full fruition. Thus the kibbutz was transformed from an uncertain experiment to a growing movement and the Histadrut from a project to a reality...

Founded in 1920 by two socialist parties whose total membership did not exceed a few thousand in order to stimulate and undertake the kind of activities described, this organization grew in the course of the next generation to the point where its affiliated enterprises accounted in the 1950s for nearly one-fourth of gross national product of Israel and employed the same proportion of the labor force, its trade unions affiliated 90 percent of the workers by hand and by brain, and its health insurance service embraced two-thirds of the total population. So powerful did this Workers Society become that some of its leaders claimed for it parity with or even priority over the state.


1979
The American University, Israel, a Country Study, edited by Richard F. Nyrop; Washington, D.C.:
In the late 1970s the Histadrut continued to be the most important of the national institutions in the economy. In its function as a labor organization (of which it was by far the largest) it was open to all workers including the self-employed -- such as professionals and members of cooperatives -- and even housewives and children could become members. Memberships covered over 90 percent of wage earners and more than 50 percent of the population; many members joined for benefits other than collective bargaining. Histadrut periodically negotiated basic agreements on wages and working conditions with management groups for specific kinds of employment such as the Manufacturers Association of Israel and the government. Because Histadrut covered such a large proportion of workers, there was a high degree of standardization of working conditions throughout the economy.

In negotiating wage agreements, Histadrut was in the anomalous position of owning a large number of businesses through a subsidiary holding company and of being the largest employer. Among its affiliates were a bank, an insurance company, construction firms specializing in housing and large construction (e.g., buildings and ports including jobs overseas), an industrial holding company (Koor Industries, operating plants, such as basic metals, electronics, and chemicals, and maintaining sales offices throughout the world), and a large number of cooperatives in agricultural marketing, kibbutz industries, wholesale and retail trade, and transportation (in which cooperatives had a near monopoly of urban and interurban bus transportation). Histadrut was part owner in the national water company, ocean shipping line, inland air transport company, and the primary agricultural contracting company. By the mid-1970s Histadrut employed over 16 percent of the labor force, and estimates of its economic activity indicated a contribution of 20 percent or more to gross domestic product (GDP). Histadrut's entrepreneurial activities contributed considerably to development of important parts of the economy before and after independence.

In addition, Histadrut conducted health, welfare, and educational activities. The most important was a health insurance program (Kupat Holim), which was an important inducement for members. Attempts to establish a national health insurance plan were fought by Histadrut, presumably because it would lose part of its membership; the Histadrut program was the closest thing to a national plan, covering about three-quarters of the population. Critics claimed the program was losing money and would require government funding in the near future.


1980
William Frankel, Israel Observed, An Anatomy of the State, Thames and Hudson:
The grass-roots strength of Mapai lay in the two agricultural powers: the kibbutz movement of collective settlements and the moshav movements of cooperative small holdings. With them stood the unique and powerful Histadrut, which is not merely a trade union movement like the TUC in Britain or the AFL-CIO in the United States, but controls great industrial enterprises and acts as a social service agency for its members...

Since the earliest days of Zionist settlement in Palestine, the party had found jobs for, housed, educated and protected the immigrants. In the course of this process the Zionist socialist groups and their offshoot, the Histadrut, virtually created a welfare state. Members of the Histadrut, always a majority of the population, were fully aware that Mapai and the Histadrut were run by the same people. Gratitude for the benefits conferred by the Histadrut was translated into votes for the Labour Party.

Paradoxically, one of the main architects of this system, Ben-Gurion, who had headed both the Labour Party and the Histadrut, also created the conditions for its contraction. When he became Prime Minister in 1948, Ben-Gurion pursued a policy of nationalizing the social services run by private organizations. The first to go was the Histadrut school system, which was merged into a State system. Then the Histadrut labour exchanges were replaced in 1959 by State labour exchanges.

Aware that the loss of these bases of power could have a serious effect on their electoral prospects, the Party leadership prevailed on the Government to change course and allow the Histadrut to retain its remaining functions, notably its health service. But there can be little doubt that Ben-Gurion's initial nationalizing policy weakened Labour's hold on some voters who had supported them as a thanks offering for services rendered, or possibly out of fear or loss of these services.

With the creation of Israel, Mapai and its leaders no longer seemed political partisans, but were identified with the State itself. The party that had brought the state into existence, that was bringing in new immigrants, finding them jobs, offering them trade union protection and the security of social services could, and in the early years did, confidently rely on the votes of those reaping these benefits. But such overwhelming superiority generated some of the Labour Party's later problems. It became a tightly-controlled party machine, an oligarchy perpetuating its own control and increasingly contemptuous of democratic principles...

Davar is owned by the Histadrut, which has the right to appoint, and also, presumably, dismiss, the Editor in Chief, though this has never occurred. Once appointed, the Editor has complete freedom -- with the one exception that Histadrut trade-union policy is exempt from editorial criticism, though critical signed articles are acceptable. All the staff are appointed by the Editor, who is not required to maintain any formal regular consultation with the Histadrut or the Labour Party on policy matters. The Board of Directors, also appointed by the Histadrut, deals only with the newspaper's financial affairs...

In the true spirit of the Labour movement, the staff of Davar is involved in the direction of the paper through an editorial committee consisting of representatives of the working journalists... It generally meets monthly to discuss questions of policy and any other matters which the Editor or any other member of the committee wishes to raise. The committee is entirely advisory, but Mrs Zemer takes its views seriously and generally respects them...

A vast solid building set back on a tree-lined Tel Aviv boulevard, and known by the locals as 'the Kremlin', houses the empire of the Histadrut, Israeli socialism in practice. The boulevard, Rechov Arlozoroff, is named after a labour leader, a founder of the Histadrut, whose assassination in 1933 was believed by his supporters to have been committed by right-wing extremists. The event deepened the already bitter conflict between Israeli socialists and the Revisionists, and the trauma can still be detected in the more-than-political hostility between Labour and Herut.

Second only to the government in power and influence, the Histadrut is a uniquely Israeli phenomenon. Its full name was Hahistadrut Haklalit Shel Ha-Ovdim Ha-Ivriyyim Be-Eretz Israel, the General Federation of Jewish Workers in the Land of Israel... At the heart of the Histadrut concept was the aim of the Jewish workers of Palestine to achieve the creation of a socialist society in the Jewish homeland. The 87 delegates to the first general conference of workers which gathered in Haifa in December 1920 produced a constitution which declared that the Histadrut 'unites all workers in the country who live on the fruits of their own labour without exploiting the labour of others for the purpose of arranging all the communal, economic and cultural affairs of the working class of the country for the building of the Labour society in the Land of Israel.'

David Ben-Gurion, who became the first Secretary-General of the Histadrut, may have been overstating the case when he later claimed: 'Without it, I doubt whether we would have had a state,' but it is beyond question that the contribution of the Histadrut in creating institutions and services and in providing trained personnel was of incalculable value when, in 1948, the structure of a new State had to be created virtually overnight...

During the slump in the 'thirties, jobs became difficult to find, and the Histadrut organized cooperative groups of workers to undertake building and public works. In a short time, that developed into a Histadrut Office for Public Works and Building which received government and private sector building contracts. As early as 1921, the Bank Hapoalim (Worker's Bank) was founded as the credit institution for these operations...

The decisive move to take the Histadrut beyond the boundaries of a trade union federation and to lay the foundation of a workers' economy took place in 1924 with the foundation of Hevrat Ovdim (Workers' Society) which has the English title of General Cooperative Association of Labour in Israel. Its membership is identical with that of the Histadrut and its function is to act as the owner of the organization's assets. The labour economy which it controls falls into two groups, cooperative societies started by their members, and enterprises started and controlled by the Histadrut. Among the former are included the bus service, kibbutzim and moshavim, while Histadrut-controlled enterprises amount to about one-quarter of the total national assets of Israel, employ one in four of the working population and 70 per cent of those engaged in agriculture...

The Histadrut became strong because its founders, with experience of the divisive potentialities of party politics, decided that it should not be allowed to become the instrument of any single one of the numerous socialist factions it embraced. Nor, they insisted, should it become merely a federation of unions depending on the approval and, therefore, control of all the participating bodies...

Members of the Histadrut (the total is almost one and a half million, 63 per cent of the population) vote in a general election once in four years for the delegates to the Histadrut convention... The 1501 delegates to the convention will be selected by the parties in the proportion of the votes their lists received... With its party composition determined by the convention election, the convention will itself elect a Council of 501 members with the same party proportions as the convention. The same representation is accorded to the parties on the Central Committee of 179 members nominated by the Council. But the rules change for the election of the real governing body, the Executive Bureau. Its 30 members are elected by the Central Committee, but the 'party key' stops there. This working group does not contain representatives of all parties but, for all practical purposes, is controlled by the majority party, so far always the Israel Labour Party...

Within the Histadrut organization, all the forms of democracy are sedulously observed, but the real control lies with the party leadership... Most of the 30 members of the Executive are on the Histadrut's full-time payroll... Membership of the Histadrut, carrying with it the right to vote in the general election for the convention, is open to all men and women over the age of 18 who work for a living. Housewives and students, regarded as self-employed, are also eligible. The fee in 1979 for a single worker was 3.75 per cent of his monthly earnings... A married worker paid over 4.5 per cent... The Histadrut uses about two-thirds of the membership dues it receives for its health services, with the remaining third applied for general trade union and cultural purposes...

The local union branches, called works committees, to which union power has been steadily moving, do not follow the Histadrut system of voting for party lists and proportionately dividing up the places according to the votes. Candidates for election to works committees are put up for election on a personal basis. They owe nothing to parties and, if they wish to be re-elected, will have to please their fellow-workers, not the party managers; so that, in a conflict with headquarters, the members of the works committees are much more likely to be susceptible to local than to national influence. Some Histadrut leaders, aware of the growing gap between the rank and file and the centre, have made the revolutionary proposal that election to the central institutions should include some personally nominated candidates as well as the party list...

A singular problem for the Histadrut has been its relationship with Arab workers. It was originally conceived as an organization only of Jewish workers -- that was its title -- and was strongly Zionist in ideology. Arab workers were therefore unable to join, a situation which embarrassed the socialist leaders, who accepted the principle of the common cause of the labouring classes in a class society. At its third convention in 1927, the Histadrut therefore decided to establish a Confederation of Palestinian Workers, a roof organization of autonomous Arab unions... When Arabs began receiving the same wages and working under the same conditions as Jewish labour, their segregation in their own labour organization became increasingly anomalous. In 1953, they were admitted to the Histadrut Sick Fund and all its other mutual aid institutions... The process of integration was completed in 1959, when Arabs were admitted to full membership and the name changed to General Federation of Labour in Israel...

Hevrat Ovdim, literally Workers' Society, but more generally known as Workers' Commonwealth, is the division of the Histadrut which owns a wide range of commercial enterprises employing about 250,000 workers who constitute some 23 per cent of the total national work force. It was set up in 1924 with two main objects. The first was the need to find work for immigrants since private enterprise could not offer enough jobs. Secondly, the socialist ideology of the Histadrut's founders prescribed that agriculture and industry should be owned and controlled by the workers, whose interests were more important than profits.

The largest of all the components of the Workers' Society are its kibbutzim and moshavim, accounting for some 60 per cent of the country's agricultural products and some 70 per cent of the total agricultural labour force. With the growth of industry in kibbutzim, Hevrat Ovdim created the Kibbutz Industries Association, which finances and organizes 300 industrial enterprises in 170 kibbutzim. They range from food processing, the manufacture of musical instruments, and fashion wear to sophisticated electronics and plastics, the largest of all the industrial divisions being metal-working, which accounts for almost one-third of all kibbutz industries...

Of enormous assistance to all these Histadrut commercial activities is access to the pension and welfare funds from which long-term loans are available through the Histadrut's main financial arm, Bank Hapoalim, which operates under Hevrat Ovdim and is now competing with Bank Leumi for the distinction of being the largest Israeli banking operation... Its Board of Directors is elected by shareholders (it is a public company), but since the founders' shares owned by Hevrat Ovdim give it a decisive vote in the elections, the Directors are actually Histadrut nominees. They decide major policy, while the day-to-day running is in the hands of a ten-man Board of Management appointed by the directors and consisting of full-time employees... Directors are not paid and the members of the Board of Management earn no more than the ordinary salary for their jobs as employees of the Bank... Almost alone among Israeli businesses, the Bank has never experienced a strike...

For a long time, the anomalies inherent in this situation, where the employees were also the nominal owners, were theoretical rather than real... Not only were their wages always in line with the private sector, but Histadrut employees enjoyed additional fringe benefits and were therefore reluctant to put their jobs at risk by militancy. Moreover, in the early days, the emphasis was on egalitarianism, when a manual worker on a university campus earned as much as a professor, and the driver of a Cabinet Minister's car took home as much as his boss. When that ideal faded in the flush of the affluent society, Histadrut employees began to behave towards their employers just as their colleagues did in the private sector. They all wanted more, so the unthinkable happened -- strikes took place in Histadrut enterprises...

Increasingly, the managements of the Workers' Commonwealth occupy the role of a normal employer, concerned more with efficiency and profits than political ideology. For their part, the workers relate to their employers no differently from their counterparts in the capitalist economy. Indeed, as far as profits are concerned, Histadrut enterprises are no less eager for them than capitalist concerns...

Labour governments have protected the interests of the Histadrut in a cosy, symbiotic relationship which ended with the 1977 General Election. For the first time in Israel's history, a non-socialist Government, owing nothing to the Histadrut, took office.

While it groped towards a reassessment of its role in this unprecedented situation, the Histadrut made soothing noises to the effect that it would not seek confrontation with the Likud Government... But as the Government followed free enterprise policies, and the freeing of the economy accelerated inflation, the Histadrut's obligation to protect the living standards of the workers inevitably brought about a change.

The Histadrut charged that the cancellation of controls, the attempts to introduce a pay freeze, the abolition of food subsidies and roaring inflation had 'turned Israel into a paradise for currency speculators and the get-rich-quick boys. It has worsened the distressed situation of so many working people while opening up new prospects and vistas for the wealthy.' The Histadrut declared war against the government's economic programme... More strikes followed, more declarations of the incompatibility between a right-wing Government and the interests of the workers as represented by Histadrut...

The Likud has every reason to welcome the weakening of the Histadrut and is well aware that, were its Sick Fund to be absorbed in a national health service, the result would be a drastic drop in Histadrut membership. With the loss of members would come fewer jobs, less money, less patronage and less power. A similar threat exists to the Histadrut's pension funds. These funds are an important capital resource for all Histadrut enterprises, and their transfer to the National Insurance Institute -- as some Likud supporters have proposed -- would be an immense blow to the workers' organization.


1989
Moshe Leshem, Balaam's Curse, How Israel Lost Its Way, And How It Can Find It Again, Simon and Schuster, New York:
the anniversary volume [of Altneuland] attempted to link the Histadrut, Israel's federation of labor, to Herzl's idea of cooperation. In fact, the two had hardly anything in common. Herzl's vision was inspired by the mutualist ideas of Bellamy, Hertzka, and the Rochdale and Rahaline experiments. Histadrut had little to do with any of that. Besides being a regular trade union, Histadrut is also the country's largest holding company, controlling industrial plants, housing, contracting outfits, trading firms, department stores, dairies, and financial services, all run according to standard capitalist principles. The holding company is only nominally owned by Histadrut's members, and the employees of the various enterprises enjoy neither more rights nor better working conditions than their counterparts in private enterprise.

The Histadrut card -- a small red booklet with the member's picture on it -- was a passport to employment. (It also provided health insurance.) However, just as a real passport is necessary for travel abroad but in itself does not guarantee the voyage, so the Histadrut card alone would not guarantee work; it was only a prerequisite for finding it. Connections -- protekzia in Hebrew slang -- were, of course, far more valuable. (They seem to be so in every society and at every level.) In this, the Ashkenazi immigrants had another clear advantage over the Sephardim: they could turn to relatives, friends, or friends of friends who had preceded them to Israel and gained positions of influence.

In any case, the Histadrut had always been more interested in creating new job opportunities than in pushing a particular social agenda that might conflict with Israel's national economic interests. Thus, it did not object when the Labor-led government decided, in effect, to sacrifice Israel's vaunted egalitarianism on the altar of economic development. In the 1960s, in an effort to attract the kind of private capital and entrepreneurial verve that it felt the economy needed, the government embarked on a policy of favoritism toward private enterprise -- a policy that included low-interest loans that, in conditions of constant inflation, amounted to virtual giveaways. The inevitable outcome of such policies was even greater social differentiation -- the well-connected Ashkenazim prospered, while the "alien" Sephardim languished.

As a result, the Israeli social pyramid -- the normalization of which had been one of Zionism's most cherished aims -- increasingly came to resemble those found in European countries. It had its peculiarities, of course: its lowest stratum was almost exclusively made up of immigrants from Moslem countries and their descendants, while its upper class was almost exclusively composed of nouveau riche Ashkenazim.


1989
Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; New York:
the essential postwar impetus for the Histadrut was supplied by the two political factions, Achdut HaAvodah and HaPoel HaZair, while the latter refused to join the former in an all-embracing union of the Left... both groups agreed that they could submerge their differences in an "apolitical," purely labor, federation. On that basis the Histadrut was founded in Haifa, in December 1920. From the outset, its membership was open to "all toilers who live by their own labor without exploiting others"...

Nor were the planters the only Jewish capitalists in Palestine who exploited their workers. In the cities, hundreds of minor entrepreneurs recruited Jewish laborers from the streets with the promise of little more than a free lunch and a mattress for sleeping. With the bulk of Jewish manpower pouring into the cities, too, the Histadrut increasingly turned its attention to the urban areas. Indeed, it organized unions not simply among manual laborers, but among clerks, technicians, even doctors and lawyers...

the Histadrut in 1923 established a central economic corporation, the Chevrat Ovdim (Workers' Association), to serve as a holding company for a wide variety of independent undertakings. Among these was HaMashbir HaMerkazi... revived in the mid-1920s as a cooperative society to buy the products of the kibbutzim and moshavim and, in turn, through its chain of retail stores, to sell those farm village foodstuffs, clothing, and industrial goods. In 1926 the Chevrat Ovdim organized a marketing outlet, Tnuva, for kibbutz and moshav dairy products; then a workers' bank (Bank HaPoalim) as its major credit instrument for the farm settlements and labor enterprises in the cities. The Chevrat Ovdim's housing company, Shikun, provided workers with flats at the lowest, nonprofit rentals; even as a wide network of cooperative endeavors -- fully a thousand of them by 1939 -- was established in other areas, ranging from bus transportation to hotel and restaurants...

one of the Histadrut's most important innovations undoubtedly was its program of universal medical coverage. Known as the Kupat Cholim (Sick Fund), it had been launched as far back as 1911, with some 2000 participants on the eve of the war. By 1930 its membership had climbed to 15,000, a number that would double five years after that. By then, too, the Kupat Cholim maintained not only the largest registry of physicians and nurses in Palestine, but its own clinics in five cities and fifty-three rural centers, as well as two hospitals and two convalescent homes. In the absence of a compulsory medical insurance law in Palestine, the growth of Kupat Cholim was a tribute to the organizing skills of the Histadrut... By 1934 the 135 Histadrut schools in Palestine represented 44 percent of all schools in the Hebrew educational system (the other two networks were operated by the General Zionists and the Mizrachi). Additionally, the Histadrut sponsored a broad network of adult education courses, together with related programs in literature, art, music, and drama. In 1925 the Histadrut founded its own dramatic company, Ohel, and began publication of its newspaper, Davar.

Finally, to broaden the employment market by any and all means, the workers' federation launched a number of its own industrial companies. The enterprises served the dual function of offering jobs to Jews and of fulfilling the kind of Zionist public services -- drainage of swamps, building of settlements -- that private entrepreneurs, and certainly the British government, would not have undertaken on their own... It drained swamps in the Jezreel and Chula valleys, built roads, erected housing and office buildings; and in the process it opened up thousands of new job opportunities, creating the working class whose interests it then defended... By the eve of World War II, the Histadrut had become much more than a powerful institution in Jewish Palestine. For a majority of the Yishuv, the Histadrut was all but synonymous with Jewish Palestine itself...

In the 1920s the [radical, utopianist HaShomer HaZair] movement's kibbutz federation vigorously advocated the notion of political parity in the Holy Land. It was HaShomer HaZair that in 1926 persuaded the Histadrut to explore the idea of a binational Confederation of Palestine Labor. Little came of the scheme... Even so, HaShomer HaZair remained the most influential of the Yishuv's parties to seek a mutual accomodation between Arabs and Jews, and labored endlessly for class and political solidarity among the Jewish and Arab working classes.

However minuscule in size or impact, these political or quasi-political organizations at least took a forthright position on Zionist aims in the Holy Land. But this was hardly true of the Yishuv's political leadership, and the phenomenon did not escape the Arabs. Muhammad Achtar, editor of Falastin, the largest Arab daily in Palestine, made the point in a speech to a group of Jews on November 26, 1930:

Another mistake that continually surprised me was that so much money and time and paper and ink were wasted on propaganda to explain Zionism to the Western nations. If only even the thousandth part of this effort were expended to clarify Zionism to the Arabs.... I suspect that you will not find a single leaflet in Arabic in which Zionists explain their needs, their rights, their claims -- absolutely none. You yourselves know better than I the extent to which this was explained to the Americans, the English, the French. Although they must live among Arabs, the Zionists did not care whether or not the Arabs understood. They thought it more essential for someone in Vienna or in Paris to know what Zionism desired.
...David Ben-Haroush... offered a typically grim account of individual and collective discrimination. He had arrived in Palestine from Morocco in 1947, he explained, and had served in the Israeli army during the war. After being demobilized, he set about finding a home for himself. But he promptly discovered that the government and Jewish Agency had allocated the better lodgings to European immigrants. He was obliged to settle for a shanty in Wadi Salib. Later he found employment in the police department. Together with other Oriental patrolmen, however, his duties were confined to routine guard assignments. Eventually Ben-Haroush left his job and opened a small cafe in Haifa. It was patronized exclusively by North Africans. "You ask if there is prejudice in this country," Ben-Haroush cried. "A North African is always down at the bottom of the list wherever he applies -- whether in the development authority, the city administration, the welfare organization for the aged, or the Jewish Agency. It's always the European immigrants who get the most favored treatment"...

The pressure of a mounting population forced high school authorities to become increasingly selective in admitting pupils. Those of lower cultural background or lower IQ ratings were the first to be turned down -- nearly always the Orientals. These facts were known to the Orientals themselves, and not least of all to the North Africans. But lacking newspapers of their own, lacking so much as a single North African representative in the Knesset or any effective means of public expression, they had brooded in impotent silence. Until Wadi Salib...

Perhaps the bureaucrats had been jaded by their experience with the newcomers. But it was not unlikely, too, that the employment officials had been affected, as had so many other Israelis, by the steady attrition of prestate idealism. Since 1948, housing, food, and employment increasingly were secured through patronage and political connections. The Ashkenazim possessed these connections. The Orientals did not. Frequently the latter were assigned to jobs that minimized their potential competition with the European group...

In the Maghreb, Jews had encountered Gallic culture firsthand and had adopted many at least of its superficial features. They had ventured even to aspire to influential positions in the French administration and in French society. It had been a vain hope; the colons wanted no part of the Jew. In Israel, then, the Maghreb immigrants searched for the recognition that had been denied them at home. Instead, they discovered that most of the positions they had expected, but failed, to win in Morocco, and which they had anticipated winning in a Jewish land, now were reserved for the Ashkenazim. Nor was their self-esteem restored as they were hustled from city to countryside -- precisely the opposite of the Jewish migrational tradition in Morocco -- and instructed to perform farm labor ordinarily reserved for "Berber riffraff" in North Africa...

For several years, the influx of hundreds of thousands of semimendicants threatened to extinguish the idealism even of Israel's veteran European population. Many of these "Westerners" plainly were shaken by the apparent levantinization of their Zionist Utopia, and for the first time began to question their own traditionally spartan values. Thus, in growing numbers, Israel's sabras -- members of the Palestinian-born generation -- turned their backs on the kibbutz and the frontier outpost. Joining the migration to the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, they vied with the refugees in seeking out the easier life and the main chance.

Nor did they regard their move as evidence of waning patriotism... In a regularized society of legal sanctions and official directives, of concentrated political power and widening differentiation between the "establishment" and the general population, of palpable suspicion, even elementary lack of communication, between "backward" Oriental and "modern" European, the selfless and spontaneous emotional commitment of the pre-1948 era appeared increasingly out of date. The old idealism, then, was the most lamented casualty of Israel's post-independence era. While not yet altogether moribund, it would revive henceforth less amid the prosaic interludes of domestic routine than in the adrenalizing crises of war...

As in many European countries, a spate of walkouts added to the inflationary pressure. The worst of them, ironically, were triggered not by blue-collar Socialists but by members of the liberal professions, beginning with government-employed doctors in 1954, continuing with government lawyers the following year, then secondary school teachers after that, and leading finally to a work stoppage by government engineers in 1962. These strikes by the nation's professional elite bespoke a deep resentment at the equalization of their wages with those of lesser-skilled employees. The walkouts similarly released an avalanche of public expenditures, as the government became entrapped in the demands of many competing groups...

Arab workers had been admitted to Kupat Cholim as early as 1953 and encouraged to use the labor federation's mutual aid institutions. But it was not until 1959 that the Histadrut leadership finally chose to reinterpret their original ideological premises ("the Jewish Federation of Labor") and to admit Arabs to full membership... Labor councils were established in Arab villages, school equipment was provided, cultural activities were encouraged and occasionally financed. Yet the federation's major contribution was to establish some 128 cooperative societies in the Arab sector by 1967, most of them providing water services. To many Israeli Arabs, therefore, the Histadrut membership card provided the first significant opportunity to move from alienation in the Jewish republic to at least a more comfortable economic citizenship...

[Ya'akov Talmon] wrote:

Better men than I have enlarged on the grim paradox that threatens the Zionist vision, the social and moral failure of that vision, which are to be expected from the transformation of the Jews into employers, managers and supervisors of Arab hewers of wood and drawers of water, and all of it plus the slogan of "Integration."... There is an inescapable process in a population that is divided into two peoples, one dominant, the other dominated. No! The State of Israel will not be such a monstrosity. It was not for this that we have prayed two thousand years.
Talmon's article was published in the summer of 1973...

Under the aegis, meanwhile, of Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir, the boom that had enveloped Israel after 1967 was now beginning to reveal its seamier side. Many of the well-publicized egalitarian achievements of Israel's social democracy in fact were becoming eroded, and a class of nouveaux riches, many grown wealthy on public subsidies, infused Israeli life with a vulgar consumptionist quality. All strata shared in the economic upswing, to be sure, not excluding the Orientals. But the gap between richer and poorer continued to widen, even as some 70,000 families remained below the poverty line. Worse yet, it was the Labor government itself that appeared to be expropriating public funds for the enrichment of the few. Yitzchak Ben-Aharon, the Histadrut secretary-general, observed that although 95 percent of the nation's land was publicly owned, the remaining 5 percent -- essentialy urban land in the big cities -- was the object of a flagrant speculation that continued to drive up housing costs insupportably. Accusing the government of a silent partnership in this unsavory business, Ben Aharon excoriated the shameful "protekzia" -- influence peddling -- that had developed among Labor officials, enabling them to acquire the most luxurious villas, drive the most costly automobiles, secure the choicest travel and expense-account opportunities. With the exceptions of Golda Meir and one or two others, few of the top Labor officials could resist the temptation to live well on either party or government funds. What had happened, Ben-Aharon asked, to the exalted idealism of A. D. Gordon and Berl Katznelson, of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzchak Ben-Zvi? For his trouble, the secretary-general lost his position after the Histadrut election of September 11, 1973.


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