Ingathering of the Exiles
The first legislative act of the Provisional Council of State
was the Law and Administrative Ordinance of 1948 that declared
null and void the restrictions on Jewish immigration imposed by
British authorities. In July 1950, the Knesset passed the Law
of Return (see Glossary), which stated that "Every Jew has the
right to come to this country as an olah (new immigrant)."
In 1939 the British Mandate Authority had estimated that about
445,000 out of 1.5 million residents of the Mandate were Jews.
Israeli officials estimated that as of May 15, 1948, about 650,000
Jews lived in the area scheduled to become Israel under the November
1947 UN partition proposal. Between May 1948 and December 31,
1951, approximately 684,000 Jewish immigrants entered the new
state, thus providing a Jewish majority in the region for the
first time in the modern era. The largest single group of immigrants
consisted of Jews from Eastern Europe; more than 300,000 people
came from refugee and displaced persons camps.
The highly organized state structure created by Ben-Gurion and
the old guard Mapai leadership served the Yishuv well in the prestate
era, but was ill prepared for the massive influx of nonEuropean
refugees that flooded into the new state in its first years of
existence. Between 1948 and 1952 about 300,000 Sephardic immigrants
came to Israel. Aside from 120,000 highly educated Iraqi Jews
and 10,000 Egyptian Jews, the majority of new immigrants (55,000
Turkish Jews, 40,000 Iranian Jews, 55,000 Yemeni Jews, and thousands
more from Jewish enclaves in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, and Cochin
in southwest India) were poorly educated, impoverished, and culturally
very different from the country's dominant European culture. They
were religious Jews who had worked primarily in petty trade, while
the ruling Ashkenazim of the Labor Party were secular socialists.
As a result, the Ashkenazim-dominated kibbutz movement spurned
them, and Mapai leadership as a whole viewed the new immigrants
as "raw material" for their socialist program (see Jewish Ethnic
Groups , ch. 2).
In the late 1950s, a new flood of 400,000 mainly undereducated
Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Egyptian Jews immigrated to
Israel following Israel's Sinai Campaign (see 1956 War, ch. 5).
The total addition to Israel's population during the first twelve
years of statehood was about 1.2 million, and at least two-thirds
of the newcomers were of Sephardic extraction. By 1961 the Sephardic
portion of the Jewish population was about 45 percent, or approximately
800,000 people. By the end of the first decade, about four-fifths
of the Sephardic population lived in the large towns, mostly development
towns, and cities where they became workers in an economy dominated
Data as of December 1988