From the Lowest Ebb to the Turning Point

The 1980s were characterized, from the point of view of the State of Israel and the Zionist movements around the world, by a series of events, some of which were exhilarating. The focus in Israel was on the struggle against Palestinian terror (based mostly in Lebanon), which led to the outbreak of the Lebanon War in 1982; a war which lasted for three years. Towards the end of the decade, from late 1987 onwards, there was an additional element to the struggle - the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising (intifada) in the administered territories.

The long arm of the Israel Defense Forces struck at terrorists even outside the borders of Israel. Iraq, too, was hit hard when it built an atomic reactor in order to create weapons of mass destruction to be used against Israel. In June 1981, Israel Air Force planes destroyed the reactor, located not far from Baghdad. On the home front two issues were concerning Israel: the ongoing struggle between the right and the left wing, and economic matters. Between 1977 and 1984, the Israel government was comprised of right wing and religious parties. By the end of the decade, two national unity governments had arisen, headed by the two central political forces - the Likud and Labor parties. During this time, the IDF had left Lebanon and the economy had stabilized. The economy deteriorated during the first half of the decade and inflation in Israel came close to 400%. Between 1983 and 1985 it appeared that the Israeli market was about to collapse. Only a tremendous effort from 1985 onwards, which involved daring and painful steps, brought stability, decreased inflation and renewed growth. On the other hand, during the period of the two national unity governments, it was not possible to reach an accepted political line because of far-reaching differences of opinion between its two major members. This terminated the partnership in 1990.

Aliyah to Israel was at its lowest level for most of the 1980s, with only occasional exceptions. A small percentage of Jews managed to emigrate from the USSR (the main source of aliyah), despite the obstacles created by the Soviet authorities, but even then only a small number made aliyah to Israel. The dropout rate had become enormous and more than once seventy, eighty and even ninety percent of Soviet Jews dropped out along the way. For years it appeared that nothing could be done to counter this; that it was some kind of recurring "natural phenomenon." Only a few thousand olim arrived each year from Western countries, but this could be relied upon.

A relatively large wave of aliyah arrived from Ethiopia during the first half of the decade. At first, the matter was handled with great secrecy and about 2,000 Jews who had managed to reach Sudan were taken by Israeli navy ships to Israel. Three years later, Operation Moses was implemented, during which 7,000 Ethiopian Jews were rescued from Sudan. This time they were airlifted from Sudan to Europe and from there continued on to Israel. This proved once again the readiness of Israel, the WZO, the Jewish Agency and various Jewish bodies to come to the rescue of Jews in distress and bring them to safe shores.

Israel, the Jewish and Zionist world and the US government continued to act and put pressure on the Soviet government regarding their treatment of Soviet Jews. The matter was on the agenda throughout the decade, both regarding granting permission for Jews to emigrate and make aliyah to Israel, and human rights violations. From the middle of the 1980s, and especially towards the end of the decade, a slow but definite change could be discerned. This was closely connected to internal and external processes that the USSR-headed by President Mikhail Gorbachev - was going through. The relative openness and freedom that the Soviet leader practiced, was also in evidence with regard to the Jews.

The Zionist movement continued to operate in the areas of aliyah, settlement, education and Jewish culture. Teachers and instructors were trained in Israel to fill educational roles in the Diaspora, and Jews in affluent countries donated money for enterprises in Israel,

such as Youth Aliyah, aliyah absorption, agricultural land development and neighborhood rehabilitation.

In 1988 Israel marked 40 years of statehood. Forty years is a long time, but it was clear to everyone that the State of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, and the WZO still had much to do with regard to aliyah, absorption, settlement and development. At the beginning of Israel's 41st year, there were almost 4.5 million people in the country, 3.65 million (82%) of whom were Jews. Aliyah had been reduced to a trickle and only the most optimistic believed that the gates of the USSR would soon be flung open.

1980

January 7
The Zionist Executive convenes in Arad in order to outline the Zionist goals for the 1980s. Arye Dulzin, Chairman of the Executive, is critical of the fact that world Jewry accepted the Jewish Torah but is not willing to accept Zionist fulfillment.

January 26
Israel and Egypt establish full diplomatic ties.

February 24
A new currency in Israel, the shekel, replaces the lira that had been in use since the first days of the State.

February 27
The Coordinating Commission, a joint body of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, approves the establishment of a national authority for aliyah and absorption, and finally puts an end to the prolonged quarrel between the government absorption office and the Jewish Agency.

March 28
A new law passed in the US facilitates the entry of immigrants into the country. There is concern in Israel that Jews leaving the USSR who prefer the US to Israel, will take advantage of it.

July 30
The Knesset passes The Jerusalem Law, which declares "complete and united Jerusalem" to be the eternal capital of Israel. There are protests throughout the world. In August, the UN Security Council calls upon all those with diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw them from the Holy City. Most countries comply and move their embassies to Tel Aviv.

October 6
The Zionist Executive decides to establish a central administration for shlichut. Shlichim (emissaries) who go abroad in the future will not act as emissaries for the different departments but as emissaries for the WZO or Jewish Agency.

Aliyah is declining. In 1980, only 20,000 olim arrive in Israel, a drop of 54% in comparison to the previous year. The dropout phenomenon continues to eat away at aliyah. During the year, 21,500 Jews leave the USSR but only a third go to Israel.

The economic situation in Israel is grim. There is galloping inflation, which for the first time passes the 100% mark to reach 131%.

1981

February 18
Yosef Mendelevich, a Prisoner of Zion in the USSR and one of the most famous of the refuseniks, arrives in Israel.

June 7
Israel Air Force planes attack and destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor, Osirak.

July 13
The WZO announces the implementation of the Jerusalem Fellows program for the education of Diaspora Jews. The program aims to recruit young Jewish men and women in the Diaspora and train them in Israel for leadership positions in their communities in the field of Jewish education.

November 1
The Hebrew University opens the new academic year at the Mount Scopus campus after a break of 33 years.

December
The Jewish National Fund celebrates its 80th anniversary. During 1981, the JNF dealt with afforestation (planting 20,000 dunams of forest), agricultural land development (40,000 dunams) and building new roads to new settlements (100 kilometers).

December 9
After prolonged contact and discussions, the United Hebrew Immigrant Aid Service (HIAS) agrees to limit aid to the Soviet Jewish dropouts. This raises hope for reducing the dropout rate.

December 14
The Golan Law is adopted in the Knesset, extending Israeli sovereignty to the area of the Golan Heights. There are protests throughout the world.

During 1981, the training of new teachers and instructors for Diaspora communities continued with 150 teachers completing their studies at Beit HaMidrash LeMorim in the framework of the Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, and 109 instructors at the Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad (Machon) of the Youth and Hechalutz Department.
Aliyah is at a low point- less then 12,000 olim came during the year. A large percentage of the few Jews that did leave the USSR dropped out along the way. Among the olim who arrived this year were 2,000 Ethiopian Jews, most of whom were transported from the port in Sudan by Israel naval ships; the remainder came by air via Kenya.

Throughout the year, many Israeli and Jewish institutions around the world were targets of Palestinian terror. Among them were synagogues and El Al Israel Airlines offices.

1982

February 8
The Knesset marks one hundred years since the First Aliyah in a special session.

April 25
The return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt is completed. The city of Yamit is destroyed after a fierce and painful confrontation between IDF soldiers and Yamit residents.

May 21
A plaque is unveiled outside the house in Paris where Theodor Herzl wrote his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State).

June 6
The IDF initiates Operation Peace for Galilee (the Lebanon War).

December
Youth Aliyah marks its 50th year with a series of events.

December 7-17
The Thirtieth Zionist Congress convenes in Jerusalem. It announces that Zionist federations are functioning in 33 countries around the world and that the number of members of the World Zionist Organization exceeds 1.4 million; that 43 settlements (mitzpim) were established in the Galilee since the previous Congress, as well as settlements in the Golan Heights, Nahal Iron, HaGilboa and the Lachish district.

During 1982 some 15,500 olim made aliyah.

1983

March 15
An international committee convenes in Jerusalem to discuss the plight of Soviet Jewry.

September
Following Prime Minister Menahem Begin's announcement that he intends to resign (28.8), negotiations begin for the establishment of a new government headed by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. It receives the confidence of the Knesset on October 10.

October
Israel's "banks shares crisis" and "dollar panic." The Tel Aviv stock exchange closes for eleven days.

Throughout the year there were terror attacks against the IDF, which had been deployed in Lebanon since June 1982.

In 1983 aliyah recovered to a certain degree and 20,000 olim arrived in Israel.

1984

May
The police and security forces uncover a Jewish underground operating in the administered territories.

July 23
Elections to the eleventh Knesset. Due to a stalemate, a national unity government is established. This is based on a rotation arrangement between Shimon Peres of the Labor party, who serves as prime minister for the first two years, and Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud party, who serves as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. At the end of this period, the two must change places.

October
The Soviet authorities halt the emigration of Jews almost entirely, despite the fact that tens of thousands of them wish to leave.

November
The beginning of Operation Moses, which brings thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in a combined Jewish Agency and Israel government operation. Aid is provided by the US. Some 7,000 olim are transported by air from Sudan to Europe and from there to Israel. After the operation is made public, the government of Sudan forbids the continuation of aliyah via its country.

Israel had a difficult year: the fighting in Lebanon continued bringing the number of IDF soldiers killed, since mid-1982, to more then 600.
Inflation broke all records and in 1984 reached 374%. After the establishment of the national unity government, painful steps were taken to stabilize the economy.

During the year, 23,000 olim arrived in Israel - the largest number in six years.

1985

January 20
The IDF forces begin withdrawing from their positions in Lebanon, in accordance with a government decision. Despite this, terror attacks against IDF soldiers in Lebanon continue in the coming months.

June 10
The IDF completes its withdrawal from Lebanon, leaving a small force in the area near Israel's border - a security zone.

July
There is fury among Ethiopian olim due to the rabbinic demand that they convert to Judaism (an Orthodox conversion).

September 4
The New Israel Shekel (NIS) is bom. It is worth one thousand old shekels. Aliyah is at an all-time low. Only 12,000 olim arrive this year. Aliyah from the USSR ceases almost entirely due to obstacles and prohibitions created by the Soviet authorities.

1986

February 11
The best-known Prisoner of Zion, Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, is freed from Soviet prison after a prolonged international campaign for his release, led by his wife Avital. He immediately makes aliyah and receives a national welcome.

February 27
John Demanjuk, accused in the US of murdering Jews during World War 2, is extradited to Israel to stand trial.

October 20
Yithak Shamir replaces Shimon Peres as prime minister for the next tow years - in accordance with the rotation agreement of the national unity government - until the next general elections.

Aliyah is at its lowest point in 40 years: only 11,000 olim arrive. Tow is at its lowest point in 40 years: only 11,000 olim arrive. Two
thousand Jews are allowed to leave the USSR; only 209 make aliyah to Israel.

1987

February 16
John Demanjuk's trial begins in Jerusalem.

March
In light of a policy of great openness in the USSR (glasnost), initiated by President Gorbachev, aliyah from that country increases.

April
Throughout April, 700 Jews are allowed to leave the USSR. Only a quarter reach Israel.

April 13
Dozens of aliyah refuseniks participate in a Pesach Seder that is held in the US embassy in Moscow, with the participation of US Secretary of State George Shulz.

December 6-10
The Thirty-first Zionist Congress convenes in Jerusalem, where it is reported that since the previous Congress in late 1982, 90 new settlements have been established by the Agricultural Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency and Settlement Division of the WZO, 38 in Judea and Samaria, eight in the Jordan Valley, seven in the Gaza Strip, 24 in the Golan Heights and the Galilee, 11 in the Negev and the Arava, and two in the center of the country. It is also reported that during the ten years of Project Renewal, 87 neighborhoods were rehabilitated, that the number of members in different Zionist organizations worldwide stands at over 1.5 million, that hundreds of shlichim from Israel operate around the world in the fields of education, youth leadership and aliyah, and that aliyah came to a standstill during the 1980s and suffered, among other things, from the worst dropout rate of Soviet Jewish emigrants.

The Zionist Congress calls all the Jewish, Zionist and other Appeals connected in some way to Israel, to preserve, support and strengthen the senior status of Keren Hayesod as an expression of the centrality of Israel in the life of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

December 9
Serious disturbances in the Gaza Strip, symbolizing the beginning of the Palestinian intifada (uprising).

Aliyah in 1987 stands at 14,000. Among the new arrivals are Prisoners of Zion and aliyah refuseniks from the USSR, including Yuli Edelstein, Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak.

1988

The relationship between Israel and the USSR improves, especially with regard to aliyah.

March 19
The first El Al plane is allowed to fly over USSR territory.

April 21
Israel celebrates its 40th Independence Day and ceremonies and events are held in Jewish communities throughout the world.

April 25
John Demanjuk is convicted in the Jerusalem District Court of crimes against the Jewish nation, and sentenced to death by hanging. He appeals to the Supreme Court of Justice.

The 1988 index stands at 16.3%, the lowest for many years.
Aliyah during 1988 is still low - 16,000. More Jews are allowed to leave the USSR but many still drop out en route to Israel.

1989

January
News reaches Israel that a great aliyah can be expected from the USSR, which is now pursuing a liberal and open policy under the leadership of its president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

March
El Al Israel Airlines opens two air routes to Eastern European countries - Poland and Hungary. Rumors abound regarding the possibility of approval of direct flights for olim from the USSR to Israel. A difficult year in the struggle against Palestinian terror, with many terror attacks in Israel, the administered territories and in southern Lebanon. There is a significant improvement in the aliyah rate. In 1989, 24,600 olim arrive in Israel, an increase of 50% in comparison to the previous year, and the largest number for ten years. Towards the end of the year, olim begin arriving from the USSR in overwhelming numbers. In December alone, more then 4,000 Jews make aliyah; just a hint of what is to come in 1990.

 

 

 

 

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21 Jul 2005 / 14 Tamuz 5765 0