Oy Vey: Obama's Salute to Israeli Socialism

Barack Obama—kibbutznik?

Of all the ways the presidential candidate sought to connect with Jewish voters at Congregation B'nai Torah in Boca Raton yesterday, perhaps the most heartfelt seemed these lines:

BARACK OBAMA: As I learned more [about the Zionist movement], I found I had a deep affinity with the idea of social justice that was embodied in the Jewish faith. There was a notion–tikkun–that you could repair the breach of the past. There was a notion, embodied in the kibbutz, that we all had a responsibility to each other. That we're all in this together. That hope can persevere even against the longest odds.

View video here [link is to RCP clip; cited remarks from 0:30-2:50.]

Let's deconstruct. "Social justice": classic left-wing code for redistributive economics. Tikkun, or tikkun olam, is the favorite term of the Jewish left. It means "repairing the world," and is interpreted by liberal Jews as a mandate for big government. Ironically, it was Hillary Clinton who brought the phrase into American political currency via her erstwhile spiritual advisor Michael Lerner, he of "the politics of meaning," and publisher of a left-wing journal named . . . Tikkun.

Finally, just what is the kibbutz, with which notion Obama claims "deep affinity?" It was nothing less than an explicit experiment in utopian socialism, of communal living in which not only property, but also child-rearing, were shared. Kids were raised in communal dorms, with parents granted only a limited number of hours per week of individual interaction with their children. Recent years have seen a crisis for the kibbutzim, in which they have been forced to embrace some market reforms in order to survive. But Obama clearly seemed to be referring to the original, romanticized version of the collectivist kibbutz in which "we're all in this together."

Will the MSM pick up on Obama's salute to socialism? Not holding breath . .

Bonus Coverage: 'I Never Felt Rooted; Didn't Know Where I Was'

Obama introduced his ode to collectivism with the lines below in which he describes the way in which the Jews' abiding connection with Israel despite centuries of separation appealed to him as a child who lacked real roots of his own. Poignant, but perhaps a bit troubling, too, for a prospective president to be the child of such alienation.

OBAMA: The first time that this journey [that led to the creation of the State of Israel] was brought to my consciousness was back in the sixth grade. I had a Jewish-American camp counselor, who had spent time in Israel. And he talked about what it meant for Jews to have a homeland, particularly after the horror of the Holocaust. And he talked about how important it was for a people who had been uprooted, who had preserved their culture over centuries, to finally return to their homeland.

And that idea was incredibly powerful to me. I was 11 years old at the time, but I had grown up as a child who had never felt rooted. Some of you know that I've got a diverse background, a mother from Kansas, a father from Kenya, my father had left, I lived in Indonesia for a time, came back to Hawaii: I didn't know where I was. And so, the idea that one could hang onto one's sense of values, and have a sense of family, and despite being an outsider, somehow still have a place to connect to, not only a physical place but also an emotional place and a spiritual place, was very powerful to me. So even before I fully understood the history of the Jewish people, the Zionist movement was something that I related to and connected to, from my own experience.

Addendum: More on the Kibbutz Movement

The kibbutz movement has its roots in the fertile soil of nineteenth century Eastern European socialism, inspired by the ideas of Karl Marx (1818-1883), aligned with the notion of righting the inverted pyramid of European Jewish society, top-heavy as it was with luftmenschen and lacking a significant working class at its base. The early kibbutzim that followed the establishment of Degania Alef in 1909 had in common a collective approach to decision making, an economy based on agriculture and a co-operative attitude to work. Working the land was an activity that had been elevated to a quasi-religion by, among others, Aharon David Gordon (1856-1922) and the strong socialist flavor of the kibbutz movement was attributable in no small part to the writings of Moses Hess (1812-1875).

Since those days, the kibbutzim have been buffeted by heavy debts and soaring inflation in the 1980s, lost their ideological reference point with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and diversified their economic base from agriculture to industry, tourism and leisure. In many ways these developments are a microcosm of the forces that have shaped the wider Israeli economy, which has been pulled, often reluctantly, further from its highly centralized socialist roots toward a market-based economy.



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