Hebrew labor

"Hebrew labor" (Hebrew: עבודה עברית, Avoda Ivrit) and "conquest of labor" (Kibbush haAvoda) are two related terms and concepts. One of them refers to the ideal adopted by some Jews in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and later embraced by Zionism to favour hiring Jewish rather than non-Jewish workers. Another one is the slogan for the Jews to embrace productive (industrial and agricultural) labor rather than being engaged only in trades and professions.[1][2]

Jewish demonstrators near citrus groves in Kfar Saba, demanding the employment of Jewish workers


End of the Ottoman periodEdit

During the Second Aliyah period many Jewish immigrants to Palestine sought year-round jobs on the agricultural tracts and plantations of their co-religionists who had arrived during the First Aliyah. Rather than hire their fellow Jews, the immigrants of the First Aliyah were initially inclined to hire local Arabs who provided cheaper labor. Eventually the immigrant laborers of the Second Aliyah successfully unionized and emphasized their Jewish identity and shared nationalist goals in order to persuade the First Aliyah immigrants to hire them and thereby displace the Arab labor. They organized under the banner of "Hebrew Labor" and "conquest of labor".[3][1][2]

The struggle for Jewish labor, for Jews to employ only Jews, signified the victory of Jewish labor in creating a new society.[4] This struggle was constantly pushed by the leaders of the second Aliyah (1904-1914), who founded Labor Zionism and in the 1930s became the leaders of the Zionist movement.[5][6] Shortly after his arrival in Palestine in 1906 David Ben-Gurion noted that a moshava, a private Jewish agricultural settlement, employed Arabs as guards. He asked himself: "Was it conceivable that here too we should be deep in Galuth (exile), hiring strangers to guard our property and protect our lives?".[7] Soon Ben-Gurion and his companions managed to amend this situation. According to Shabtai Teveth in these early years Ben-Gurion developed the concept of 'Avodah Ivrit', or 'Jewish labour'.[8]

The leaders of the second Aliyah agreed that Jewish labor was vital for the national revival process as they were convinced that Jews should 'redeem' themselves by building with their own hands a new type of Jewish society. They also thought the use of Arab labor could create a typical colonial society, exploiting cheap, unorganized local labor, and would hamper further Jewish immigration. Finally they considered manual labor a good therapy for Jews as individuals and as a people. In Ben-Gurion's opinion Jewish labor was "not a means but a sublime end", the Jew had to be transformed and made creative.[9][10][11]

In 1907 Ben-Gurion called for Jewish labor on lands owned by the Jewish National Fund.[12] There were difficulties here, because Arabs were prepared to work long hours for very low wages, and most Jewish immigrants preferred to settle in the cities. In this context occurred the development of the concept of the kibbutz, 'the co-operative settlement based on self-labour and motivated by Zionist ideals'.[13] In a summary made in 1956 Ben-Gurion said the kibbutz movement was not started because of some socialist theory, but as an effective way to "guarantee Jewish labour".[14]

Mandate periodEdit

Around 1920 Ben-Gurion began to call for Jewish labor in the entire economy, and labor Zionism started striving for an absolute segregation of the Jewish and Arab national communities. In this way 'Jews and Arabs [...] would live in separate settlements and work in separate economies'.[15] Ben-Gurion used the 1929 Palestine riots and the 1936 general strike[clarification needed] as opportunities to further enforce his drive for Jewish labor.[16][17] In 1930 the Hope Simpson Report blamed the Jewish labor policy for the grave unemployment in the Arab sector.[18] According to Flapan in 1933 the Histadrut launched its first campaign to remove Arab workers from the cities. In many cases the removal of Arab workers 'took the form of ugly scenes of violence'. Reports of this in the Jewish and Arab press 'created an atmosphere of unprecedented tension'.[19] According to Flapan this forceful eviction of Arab workers and the 'acrimonious propaganda' which accompanied the operation amplified Arab hostility and ultimately precipitated the outbreak of the Arab revolt in 1936.[20]

In 1947 the UN Special Commission on Palestine summarized the situation:

The economic life presents the complex phenomenon of two distinctive economies—one Jewish and one Arab, closely involved with one another and yet in essential features separate. . . . Apart from a small number of experts, no Jewish workers are employed in Arab undertakings and apart from citrus groves, very few Arabs are employed in Jewish enterprises. . . . Government service, the Potash company and the oil refinery are almost the only places where Arab and Jews meet as co-workers in the same organization. . . . There are considerable differences between the rates of wage for Arab and Jewish workers in similar occupations.[21]

State of IsraelEdit

In recent times there have been attempts at reviving the practice of hiring exclusively Jewish labor in Israel and the occupied territories, particularly after the Second Intifada. Selective hiring practices are illegal in Israel under the Act of Equality in Employment, however many employers cite overriding security concerns.[22] In 2004 an Israeli website promoting Hebrew Labor was shut down under pressure from the Mossawa Center for Arab Rights.[citation needed] American Jewish donations to the Mossawa Center.[clarification needed] In March 2008 in light of the Mercaz HaRav massacre, which was initially reported to have been perpetrated by an Arab employee of the seminary,[23] Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky ruled "it is completely forbidden to hire Arabs, especially in yeshivas" due to the "concern of endangering lives".[24] One week later the Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Dov Lior ruled that "it is strictly prohibited to hire Arabs, or to rent houses on Israeli land to them. Their employment is out of the question, not only in the yeshivas but also in hotels or factories; basically anywhere."[25]


Hebrew laborEdit

"Hebrew labor" is often also referred to as "Jewish labor", although the former is the literal translation of "avoda ivrit". According to Even-Zohar the immigrants of the Second Aliyah preferred to use the word "Hebrew" because they wanted to emphasize the difference between their "new Hebrew" identity and the "old Diaspora Jewish" identity. For them the word "Hebrew" had romantic connotations with the "purity" and "authenticity" of the existence of the "Hebrew nation in its land", like it had been in the past.[26]

Related to the concept of "Hebrew labor" was the concept of "alien labor". Ben-Gurion wrote about the settlers of the First Aliyah: "They introduced the idol of exile to the temple of national rebirth, and the creation of the new homeland was desecrated by avodah zara". According to Shapira avodah zara means both "alien labor" and, in a religious sense, "idol worship". Along with bloodshed and incest this is one of the three worst sins in Judaism. Application of this concept to the employment of Arab workers by Jews depicted this as a taboo.[27]

Conquest of laborEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Kibbush Haavoda (conquest of labor)" at Zionism and Israel
  2. ^ a b "Avoda Ivrit (Jewish labor)" at Zionism and Israel
  3. ^ Shafir and Peled (2002)
  4. ^ Smith (2001), p. 118
  5. ^ Gorny (1987), pp. 3,70
  6. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 199
  7. ^ Ben-Gurion (1959), Rebirth and destiny of Israel, Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London, p. 14
  8. ^ Teveth (1985), pp. 8, 11
  9. ^ Gorny (1987), p. 12
  10. ^ Teveth (1985), p. 44
  11. ^ Flapan (1979), pp. 199,230
  12. ^ Teveth (1985), p. 66
  13. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 200
  14. ^ Sternhell (1999), The Founding Myths of Israel ..., p. 74
  15. ^ Teveth (1985), pp. 44, 66
  16. ^ Teveth (1985), p. 79
  17. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 231
  18. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 205
  19. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 206
  20. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 207
  21. ^ Flapan (1979), p. 198; citing the 1947 UN SCOP report
  22. ^ "In poor taste? Burger joint owner proudly hires 'Jewish workers only'". The Jerusalem Post. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  23. ^ Mideast's Ugly Dance of Death, The Star
  24. ^ Rabbi Bans Arab Labor Following Attack, Israel National News
  25. ^ Rabbi Lior Speaks Out Against Hiring of Arabs, Yedioth Ahronoth
  26. ^ Even-Zohar (1996)
  27. ^ Shapira (1999), p. 64