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History, The Postwar Period

reparation payments, kibbutz, Holocaust survivors, Weizmann, provisional government

With the end of hostilities, Israel soon moved to function as a regular state. In elections in early 1949, Israelis chose the first Knesset, which replaced the provisional government. The Zionist labor party Mapai emerged as the largest party in the Knesset, and Ben-Gurion, its leader, formed a coalition government with religious and centrist parties. Ben-Gurion and Weizmann retained their positions as prime minister and president. Israel became the 59th member of the UN in May 1949.

Israel affirmed the right of every Jew to live in Israel and promoted unrestricted immigration by drafting the Law of Return in 1950. In the first four months of independence, about 50,000 immigrants, mainly Holocaust survivors, arrived in Israel. By the end of 1951 about 687,000 had arrived—including more than 300,000 refugees from Arab lands such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya—doubling the Jewish population. Meanwhile a small number of Arabs returned to Israel to be reunited with family members who had chosen to remain in the country, bringing the total Arab population to about 167,000.

This mass immigration compounded the economic strain caused by the 1948-1949 war. The government was hard-pressed to feed, house, and find employment for the new immigrants. It implemented austerity programs and accepted substantial aid from abroad, particularly from the United States and Jewish communities worldwide. In 1952, after bitter political controversy, Israel negotiated agreements providing reparation payments from the West German government to the state and to individual victims as partial restitution for Nazi theft of Jewish property during World War II. The massive amount of aid made it possible for Israel to maintain a strong army while initiating economic and social development projects, including many new agricultural settlements for recent immigrants.

Israeli politics remained relatively stable through the 1950s. Ben-Gurion remained prime minister until 1953, when he temporarily retired from politics to work on a kibbutz in the Negev to serve as an example to Israeli youth. He returned to the post of prime minister in 1955. Weizmann died in 1952 and was replaced by Itzhak Ben-Zvi, a veteran Mapai leader, who served until his death in 1963.

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