Israel Table of Contents
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 by Ashkenazim.
Data as of December 1988