ISRAEL’S kibbutzim, once championed as one of the few socialist successes, have been exposed as hotbeds of rape and child sexual abuse after a young academic brought a suit against the collective Utopia in which he grew up.
Revelations of sex crimes in Israel’s 260 secular and 15 religious kibbutzim have stirred outrage among groups protecting the rights of children and women — because those living in what they hoped were near-perfect societies have been covering up the abuse of their own children.
The exposures were triggered by Nahshon Golatz, 31, who grew up in Kibbutz Ruhama. He has filed a suit against the Kibbutz Movement, which was started by early Zionists, many of them refugees from Soviet pogroms, who still wanted to live up to the ideals of Marx and Engels, as well as the State of Israel.
He alleges that he was the victim of a grotesque socialist human experiment in which, with thousands of other children, he was an unwilling guinea pig. The idea “to create a new human being while injecting new, imaginary content into basic concepts such as parents, home, money, work, land” has left him incapable of love and bereft of any abilities as a father, he said in the Haaretz daily newspaper, prompting a national debate.
Until the 1980s most kibbutz children were taken from their parents soon after weaning and raised in dormitories. They spent a compulsory few hours a day with their immediate families and were told to see all kibbutz members as step-parents and near siblings.
As a result, says Mr Golatz: “Inside I’m a cripple”. His complaints have been compared by the movement’s defenders as the equivalent of “suing your parents because they were poor”. But his attack on collectivised parenting has led to far nastier revelations.
He says that his only “babysitter” at night, when he had bad dreams, was through an intercom. Now scores of people have said that they still shudder at the sight of an intercom — a form of contact that has left them permanently psychologically scarred. They were abused by those supposedly caring for them.
For others their kibbutz childhood was comparable to life in a prison camp. Yesterday Yehudit Winkler from Tel Aviv wrote to Haaretz to support Mr Golatz in the face of much sneering opposition. A Holocaust survivor, she was part of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel from 1949 to 1953. “The nightmare started the first day,” she said. She described a life of ritual abuse at the hands of sabra (Israeli-born) children and an attempt by the system to crush their identities.
The Kibbutz Movement has stopped collectivised child rearing but faces another attack from within. According to the latest statistics from the Haifa area’s rape crisis centre, 71 complaints were received from kibbutz women and girls. They included allegations of gang rape, incest, and other forms of abuse affecting females aged three to 30. No incident was reported to police.
Women’s advocacy groups say that the problem is nationwide, with one in three women being sexually abused, and trafficking in women commonplace. The difference, they insist, is that those abused on a kibbutz are living in an environment close to a religious cult, which prefers to cover up the ugly realities of life.
Gavri Bar Gil, executive director of the Kibbutz Movement, is horrified by the revelations, but insisted yesterday that the incidence of abuse was probably lower than in society as a whole. He added: “We have to reform ourselves . . . we have to recognise that we have been closed societies for many years and that anything could be covered up.”