Israeli Immigration Policy

Israeli Immigration Policy

Joseph Feit writes (Letters, Aug. 5) in connection with a reduced Israeli government schedule for the immigration of Ethiopian Jews: “Israel’s financial capacity today is far greater than it was in the 1950s when the country made aliyah a priority.”
What actually happened in the 1950s is interesting and worth recounting.

There was a private meeting on Oct. 5, 1950 at the home of Eliezar Kaplan, Israel’s first finance minister. Among those present were Golda Meir, Bank of Israel Governor David Horowitz and Henry Morgenthau, Jr., then a co-chair of the United Jewish Appeal and formerly President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of the Treasury. (During World War II, Morgenthau suggested to Roosevelt the creation of the War Refugee Board; he also helped establish the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.) The conversation was conducted in English, and the transcript quotes Kaplan as explaining: “Not only [Israeli] treasury people but others say we cannot continue our immigration. We are reaching the breaking point. We will have to stop — that will be decided for us. That is the dilemma. We are not masters of immigration. Every Sunday Romania dumps 1,500 newcomers.”

The Morgenthau biography from which these quotations are taken goes on to give the background of the conversation: “In addition to the costs of immigration imposed on the Israeli government budget (by the necessity to provide for the needs of the newcomers), the Israelis were slowly coming to realize the consequences resulting from the absence of peace treaties: low-grade Arab guerrilla warfare in its border areas that required continued defense expenditures, which distorted the Israeli budget.”

Kaplan explained if Israel could reduce military spending it could absorb 600,000 people.

To which Morgenthau responded: “What looms biggest in your mind is the immigration problem. If left to yourself you will stop it. What is popular in the United States? They admire Israel because of its open-door policy. If, instead of constantly having it, that immigration is your stumbling block, you would face the audience [in the United States] with an enthusiastic approach of the open-door policy, and that the stumbling block is caused by [the] army [budget costs], and then paint a picture where Israel would be if you were at peace with the Arab countries.”

At the end of the meeting Kaplan would say, referring to the costs of integrating newcomers into Israeli society: “Let us be partners in this tremendous task.” He would continue: “I will tell them: to open our gates and prepare the absorption of 600,000 Jews, we need Israeli funds, UJA funds, borrowed money, international help, and then I will go into the projects which you spoke of.”


The writer is the author of “Henry Morgenthau, Jr.: The Remarkable Life of FDR’s Secretary of the Treasury.”

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