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
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.
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.
Israel and Egypt establish full diplomatic ties.
A new currency in Israel, the shekel, replaces the lira that had been in
use since the first days of the State.
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.
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.
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.
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
Yosef Mendelevich, a Prisoner of Zion in the USSR and one of the most
famous of the refuseniks, arrives in Israel.
Israel Air Force planes attack and destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor,
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.
The Hebrew University opens the new academic year at the Mount Scopus
campus after a break of 33 years.
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).
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.
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.
The Knesset marks one hundred years since the First Aliyah in a special
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.
A plaque is unveiled outside the house in Paris where Theodor Herzl wrote
his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State).
The IDF initiates Operation Peace for Galilee (the Lebanon War).
Youth Aliyah marks its 50th year with a series of events.
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.
An international committee convenes in Jerusalem to discuss the plight of
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.
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.
The police and security forces uncover a Jewish underground operating in
the administered territories.
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.
The Soviet authorities halt the emigration of Jews almost entirely,
despite the fact that tens of thousands of them wish to leave.
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
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.
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.
The IDF completes its withdrawal from Lebanon, leaving a small force in
the area near Israel's border - a security zone.
There is fury among Ethiopian olim due to the rabbinic demand that they
convert to Judaism (an Orthodox conversion).
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.
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
John Demanjuk, accused in the US of murdering Jews during World War 2, is
extradited to Israel to stand trial.
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
thousand Jews are allowed to leave the USSR; only 209 make aliyah to
John Demanjuk's trial begins in Jerusalem.
In light of a policy of great openness in the USSR (glasnost), initiated
by President Gorbachev, aliyah from that country increases.
Throughout April, 700 Jews are allowed to leave the USSR. Only a quarter
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
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
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.
The relationship between Israel and the USSR improves,
especially with regard to aliyah.
The first El Al plane is allowed to fly over USSR territory.
Israel celebrates its 40th Independence Day and ceremonies and events are
held in Jewish communities throughout the world.
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
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.
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.
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.