The Flowering of the Israeli Solidarity Economy

The solidarity economy, the socio-economic system which see the human needs as the end of the economy and whose origin dates back to the cooperatives of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, reappeared at the end of the 20th and early 21st century as a way to help those who have been excluded from the market and from society through the imposition of neoliberal policies. Some of the main economic principles are[1]:

1.  Redistribution.  The collective ownership and distribution of surplus within each economic unit; appropriation and redistribution by a legitimate central authority (for example monetary transfers, public services, etc.) ensuring social justice.

2.  Reciprocity.  The symmetrical relations gift / counter-gift (for example: cooperatives, barter networks, savings and credit circles solidarity, banks of hours, mutual support networks for social security, etc.).

3. Market principle. The relation between the supplier and the demand  based on a contractual basis.  The personalization of relations between producers and consumers and the reduction of intermediary costs.

4. The domestic principle- that is the person  produce with the purpose  to meet their own needs and those of his or her  group   (family, community, etc.)

In the late 1980s and early 2000s, new co-operative entrepreneurship dynamics emerged in Europe to meet social needs left unmet by the market and the state. The answers varied from country to country and were also derived from the welfare regime of each state.[2]

The different dynamics have led to changes in legislation. New legal frameworks related to the cooperative model emerged in Italy (1991), Portugal (1997), Spain (1999), France  (2001), and Poland (2001). In many European countries many of the cooperatives were established in order to integrate marginalized groups such as people with special needs, disadvantaged families and communities, the mentally ill, youth at risk and more[3].

The cooperatives renaissance was similar both in South America and Asia in the 2000’s, where local cooperative organizations were helping people to return to the economy through their collective effort.

During the establishment of the state, Israel was characterized as a state in which lively business activity and the establishment of cooperatives as well as other organizations that match several of the principles of solidarity economy exist. This activity flourished and was reflected in the establishment of a variety of cooperatives in services, agriculture, savings, pensions, credit areas and more.

Israel’s cooperatives were run under the Cooperative Societies Act from 1933. The Kibbutzim, communities in Israel that were traditionally based on agriculture and combined socialist and Zionist ideology, were also run according to the principles upheld by this Act.

In the beginning, there was no real money in the kibbutz. People worked, the kibbutz was selling its production and that money was used for the needs of the members: clothes, televisions, whatever.

The Kibbutzim, differed from the classic co-operatives in the economic solution they proposed. They demanded from the individual a total commitment to the system, and people saw this relationship as a form of an extended family relationship, which generally included total commitment.

In the 80s, Israel’s economy went into crisis and the kibbutzim were forced to reduce their standard of living. People started to ask themselves why they must work hard, and receive the same as people that don’t do the same effort. People did not show solidarity, but began to look at the other side, and compete with others.

In the Kibbutzim model, it turned out that is not possible to ask people for this kind of commitment. In hard times, the premise that human beings have unlimited solidarity, not selfishness, was wrong.[4] Other kinds of cooperatives and the kibbutzim alike underwent a demutualization process: the user-owned and user-controlled organizations cooperative (or mutual) form changed to a for-profit, proprietary organization.

Since the beginning of the 2000s we have witnessed an increase in the number of cooperatives and other solidarity organizations that have arisen in Israel. In 2002, in the framework of the Centers for Culture , Youth and Sport (Matnasim network), time banks have been set up, a form of social networks that allow their members to exchange “time and knowledge” in various fields to meet their needs as individuals and as a community. Today, 40 different time banks work throughout the country. Since 2000, we have seen an increase in the number of cooperatives in the area of consumption, and from the mid-2000s and mainly after the last summer protest an increase in the number of cooperatives in the area of employment and services.

Based on the background described above, the main question discussed in my research is: What is the explanation for the formation and emerging growth of solidarity economy organizations in Israel from 2000 to 2012? Why is the Israel solidarity economy growing at this precise moment?

Regarding to the ethnic structure of Israeli society, how can we characterize the emerging solidarity economy? From an initial review of the literature I will test two hypotheses which are connected each to other as an explanation for the re- flourishing of the solidarity economy in Israel:

  1. Weakening of the Israeli welfare state.  Cooperatives fill welfare needs that the welfare state no longer addresses. Israel is defined as a welfare regime where there is great emphasis on religion, family ties and clientelistics relationships.[5] The new cooperatives are developed by groups where this features are less dominant/weaker.
  2. Solidary Identity. Establishment of cooperatives fills a need in the field of identity; from a mobilized identity in the 50s, to  a  individualist identity in the 80s and 90s[6], and finally  to  a solidary identity in the 2000s which takes  care of the  individual and collective needs,  neither  at the expense of the other.

The research is in its very initial stages but I hope that next summer the new wave of protests in Israel will bring us new and more model of solidarity economy to investigate.


[1] Laville, Jean-Louis  (2011) What is the thirs sector? From the non profit sector to the social and solidarity economy,  EMES- European Research Network, pp.1-12.  //  Coraggio Jose. L, . Economía Social y Solidaria. El trabajo antes que el capital., Alberto Acosta y Esperanza Martínez (Editores), Abya Yala, Quito, 2011.

[2] Defourny ,Jaques, Nyssens, Marthe, Second EMES International conference on Social Enterpise. “Conceptions of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship in Europe and in the United States, Convergens and Divergences”, Trento, Italy, July 1-4.

[3]  Defourny ,Jaques, Nyssens, Marthe, Second EMES International conference on Social Enterpise, The EMES Approach of Social Entrepreneurship, Trento, Italy, July 1-4. Enterprise in a Comparative Perspective

[4] Singer, Saul, “Economía Solidaria: posibilidades y desafíos” , presentation,  Sindicato de Ingenieros en Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 2000.  //  Abramitzky Ran, “The Limits of Equality: Insights from the Israeli Kibbutz” (December 2005 ms.)

[5] Gal Jhon , Is there an extended family of Mediterranean welfare states?, Journal of European Social
Policy , Vol. 20, pp. 283-300.

[6] Peled  Yohav and Shafir Guershon (2005). Who is Israeli: Dynamics of complex citizenship.  Tel Aviv: TA University Press.  //  Rosenhak, Zeev (2007) “Dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in the Israeli welfare state” in Hanna Herzog, Tal Kohavi and Shimshon Zelniker , ( Editors ),  Generations, spaces and identities. Jerusalem: Van Leer Institute and the United Kibbutz Movement, pp.137- 149.


Gabi Appel holds an MPP (Master of Public Policy)  and a BA in Political Sciences and Sociology, both from the Hebrew University ( Israel). During the last half year she was working on her thesis research in the area of solidarity economy in Israel, and plans to start (formally) her Phd in the next summer. Gabi Appel,  is the Director of Topaz- Leading Social Innovation NPO. At Topaz,   she develops different models of social entrepreneurship including:  social enterprises, social and technological initiatives. For the last ten years, she has worked for the israeli third sector in different NGOs mentoring and developing a wide variety of ventures in the in the areas of education, immigration, employment, etc. Email contact:


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