Re-romanticizing Commons and Community in Israeli Discourse: Social, Economic, and Political Motives

Amnon Lehavi


Public discourse in Israel is taking a somewhat surprising turn in its vacillation between individualism and collectivism. While mainstream public opinion in the 1980s and 1990s pointed to the failures of common- and public-property regimes, elected officials, entrepreneurs, and consumers are nowadays singing the praises of commons and communities. The re-romanticizing of commons and community is driven by a number of explicit and implicit motives, which also underscore, however, the limits of a full-fledged return to common-property regimes. This article highlights three instances of the reemergence of the commons- and community-discourse across the Israeli landscape. First, while the old-style “cooperative kibbutz” suffered a substantial decline in past decades, the evolution of a new type of midlevel communitarianism in the “renewing kibbutz” has led to a growing demand to join the ranks of such kibbutzim. Second is the development of urban shared office-space compounds such as WeWork, and the next phase of urban commons: co-living buildings. Third, the emergence of “community villages” on state-owned lands, located mostly in Israel’s peripheral areas, has been praised by governmental agencies and residents alike as restoring a key role for community for middle-class families. But this advocacy may also be driven by exclusionary social and political motives, as applicants may be turned down based on open-ended criteria, such as “incompatibility with social life in the community” or incongruity with its “social-cultural texture.” These case studies serve as a basis for offering new theoretical tools for thinking about the commons, fifty years after The Tragedy of the Commons presented their apparent failures. A fresh theory of commons and community could highlight how the revived discourse attests to the need to design a new set of balances between the perils of commons and anticommons, between values of anonymity and familiarity, and between governance by hierarchy and egalitarian rules.

Full Text: