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"Our roots are still not deep enough in this land to give up on agriculture," Imri Ron, outgoing head of the Kibbutz Movement's anti-privatization Collective Stream, said on Shavuot eve.
Shavuot is a biblical holiday that has traditionally been celebrated by kibbutzim more than any other due to its strong agricultural motifs of harvest and the bringing of the first fruits.
Ron, 69, a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek, said that, today more than ever, Zionism needs strong agriculture.
"There is a national interest in keeping agriculture strong and not turning this state into one big piece of concrete," said Ron, who has bitterly fought capitalistic trends that he believes have destroyed the kibbutz movement's distinctive beauty and national importance.
"Working the land is one of the best ways of feeling connected to it," he added. "Industry is the same no matter where you are. But agriculture is distinctive to your homeland."
Ron said that agriculture's contribution to kibbutz income has gradually fallen over the years, with more emphasis being put on profit-maximizing industry.
"Privatized kibbutzim are increasingly leaving their land fallow or hiring outsiders to work it. Collective kibbutzim that are not governed solely by economics realize the importance of agriculture," he said.
But Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon believes Israel is still ranked among the top five agricultural nations in the world.
"We are world champions in the fields of irrigation technology and the dairy industry," said Simhon, born and raised on Moshav Even Menahem, just two kilometers from the northern border.
Simhon, who has experience working in orchards, poultry and dairies, said Israeli agriculture, which exports $1 billion a year, a quarter of its total production, faces a number of challenges.
One of the most serious is a dearth of workers. "I'm going to push to raise the quota for foreign workers from the present level of 26,000 to 30,000," he said.
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