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Jewish migrations have a history of thousands of years: the wanderings of the Patriarchs; the Exodus from Egypt; the Babylonian Exile; the existence of Jewish groups outside Ereẓ Israel in the Second Temple period; the dispersion of the Jewish people in the Roman and Near Eastern empires after the destruction of the Second Temple; the spread of the Jews to many countries of the Christian and Islamic world; the attraction of Jews to places with favorable conditions, and, on the other hand, departures from countries as a consequence of persecutions and expulsions – culminating in the scattering of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and the settlement of some Jews (and Marranos) in the New World since the early stages of the European colonization. In small numbers, Jews made their way to the Holy Land throughout the ages of the Diaspora. From the second third of the 19th century, a noticeable stream of Jewish migration flowed from Europe to the United States.

The modern period of intensive Jewish migration began in 1881. Since then, migrations have completely changed the world map of the geographical distribution of the Jews. In the demographic history of mankind, this period is generally characterized by the relative frequency of intercontinental migrations, especially from Europe; the Jews, however, exceeded by far other peoples of similar or superior size in the relative volume of long-distance migration. The world Jewish population at the beginning of the 1880s, which is estimated to have been more than 7½ million, is almost equaled by the number of Jews who have taken part in international migrations since then (c. 6 million in intercontinental migrations). Another feature characterizing Jewish migrations is the motivation behind them. Whereas individuals from other nations migrated over great distances primarily for economic motives, the great majority of Jews also tried to escape discrimination and were in fact refugees, especially since the 1930s; on the other hand, aliyah to Ereẓ Israel was often based on idealistic motives. Consequently, whereas a considerable portion of the economically motivated migrants from other nations eventually returned to their countries of origin, remigration was much rarer among Jews.

When a substantial number of Jewish migrants had reached a country, further Jewish immigration was thereby facilitated (except for instances of worsening of the political or economic situation in the country or of the immigration regulations). The established Jews tended to assist – whether individually or through organizations – in the arrival and establishment of their fellow Jews. The changes in environmental influences produced by migration have strongly contributed to profound alterations in the economic, social, and demographic characteristics of the Jews in recent generations. Moreover, migrations have removed, before it became too late, large numbers of Jews from areas where they would otherwise have been faced with the danger of physical destruction. The Nazi persecutions might have come much closer to their aim of a genocidal "final solution" had it not been for the preceding large-scale emigration from Europe. The period of intensive Jewish migration since 1881 can be divided into three main parts, with several subdivisions.


This period is characterized by a large flow of Jewish migration from Eastern Europe overseas and by the virtual absence of administrative restrictions on free entry into the main immigration recipient – the United States of America. The total volume of Jewish intercontinental migrations during 1840–80 has been estimated at little above 200,000, but for the years 1881–1914 at about 2,400,000. The overwhelming majority of these Jewish migrants came from Eastern Europe: the czarist empire, the eastern regions of Austria-Hungary (especially Galicia), and Romania. They were escaping the hardships inflicted by poverty, antisemitic discrimination, or political oppression. Since East European Jewry experienced a strong natural increase at the time, emigration also served as a regulator drawing away the Jewish population surplus for which there were not enough opportunities for a livelihood in those backward and inhospitable surroundings. About 85% of the Jewish intercontinental migrants turned to the U.S. Conspicuous among the other destinations were (in descending order of numbers) Canada, Argentina, Ereẓ Israel, and South Africa.

The overseas movement of East European Jews started in 1881, after a series of pogroms in Russia. Its intensity increased in the first half of the 1890s, subsequently ebbed somewhat, but rose sharply after the great 1905 wave of pogroms in Russia, which came in the wake of the abortive revolution of that year. From mid-1905 to mid-1906, a peak figure of 154,000 Jews arrived in the U.S., and the total volume of Jewish international migrations in the same year has been estimated at 200–250,000. Similar figures were reached in the following year and again directly before the outbreak of World War i.

In most immigration countries, the statistics on Jewish arrivals were markedly higher during the second part of the period (1901–14) than during its first part (1881–1900). The outbreak of World War i put an abrupt stop to this vast movement while it was still gathering momentum. The absolute and relative size of intercontinental migration, by countries of destination, is seen in Table 1: Intercontinental Migrations, 1881–1914.

In the U.S. (see Table 2: Jewish Immigration to the U.S., 1899–1914), those registered as Hebrews accounted for nearly 11% of all migrants during 1899–1914 (the total share of the Jews may have even been somewhat greater as it is not certain that every Jew was actually registered under "Hebrews"). The number of Jews was second largest of all the immigrant national groups that came to the U.S. during that period; if, however, remigration is deducted and only net migration is considered, the difference between the Jews and the top group – the Italians – almost disappears. The Jews differed from other immigrant groups in the U.S. by their low proportion of remigration – seven remigrants per 100 immigrants during 1908–14, as compared to an overall average of 31 per hundred (among some national groups, remigration exceeded half the volume of immigration). Because of the permanent nature of their immigration, the Jews often brought their entire families with them and thus had higher proportions of women and children than other immigrant groups (see Table 3: Immigrant Characteristics, U.S.).

The Jewish immigrants to the U.S. were also distinguished by the high proportion registered as industrial workers: 66 per 100 wage earners. In the U.S. immigration statistics of 1899–1914, Jews thus accounted for 31% of all industrial workers, and in some branches, especially clothing manufacture, they were a clear majority. During 1899–1914, the distribution by previous country of residence of the close to 1,500,000 Jews who immigrated to the U.S. was as follows: Russia, 71.7%; Austria-Hungary, 16.2%; Romania, 4.2%; Great Britain, 4.0%; Canada, 1.2%; Germany, 0.7%; other countries,

Country of destination1881–1914 Total1881–19001901–1914
PercentAbsolute Numbers (thousands)PercentAbsolute Numbers (thousands)PercentAbsolute Numbers (thousands)
United States85.02,04088.067584.01,365
Other Latin American countries0.5140.520.512
South Africa2.0433.0231.020
Ereẓ Israel3.0704.0302.040
Yearly average of migrants, absolute numbers (thousands)70.038.0116.0
Per 1,000 of Jewish population in whole world6.84.29.7
Year 2Number1Year2Number1
1 The category Hebrew was first introduced into official migration statistics in 1899.
2 Fiscal year, i.e., the 12 months ending in June of the year indicated.
Jewish ImmigrantsTotal Immigrants
Age distribution
45 and over5.85.2
Occupational distribution of earners
Clothing manufacture39.6} 17.8
Other industry26.0
Commerce and transport9.24.7
Liberal professions1.31.5
Unskilled labor21.347.9

2.0% (but among the Jews arriving in the U.S. from countries outside Eastern Europe, particularly Great Britain and Canada, many were actually of East European origin).

Immigration to Ereẓ Israel during the same period fell immensely short of the mighty stream that turned to the U.S. In the history of modern Ereẓ Israel it is usual to distinguish between the First Aliyah (1882–1903) and the Second Aliyah (1904–14). Altogether about 70,000 Jews migrated to the country, but a considerable number of them left again, mainly because of economic difficulties. Due to the overwhelming attraction of the U.S. and of other economically promising overseas countries, the arrivals in Ereẓ Israel accounted for only 3% of Jewish intercontinental migrants.

During 1881–1914 there was also considerable international migration of Jews within Europe – generally from east to west and, particularly, from Russia and Romania to Central and Western European countries. This movement has been estimated to include 350,000 persons so that the total of Jewish international migrants over that period amounted to about 2,750,000. There were also large-scale streams of Jewish migration within the extended empires of Europe of that time: from east (Galicia, Bukovina, Poznan) to west in the Austro-Hungarian and German empires; in a southern direction (Odessa) within Russia. In addition, Jews in many countries participated with relative intensity in the movement from smaller localities to large cities. Within cities, the socioeconomic rise of many Jews enabled them to move to more well-to-do residential quarters.

1915–May 1948

In some ways, this is an intermediate period between the intensive migration movements preceding and following it that turned to the U.S. and to the new State of Israel, respectively. It was also the period in which the *Holocaust occurred, profoundly changing the entire demographic makeup of the Jewish people. This period can be broken down into several subdivisions; common to most of them was the existence of restrictions to the free movement of Jewish migrants. The main statistical data on the period are concentrated in Table 4: Jewish Intercontinental Migrations, 1915–May 1948, and Table 5: Jewish Immigration to the United States and Ereẓ Israel, 1915–May 1948.

During and immediately after World War i, intercontinental migrations of Jews dwindled, but there were large movements of Jewish refugees in Europe to escape from the areas of the hostilities and from some of the subsequent political upheavals. Then the volume of overseas migrations swelled again, comprising more than 400,000 Jews during 1921–25; 280,000 went to the U.S. of whom nearly 120,000 arrived during the year ending in mid-1921. In the same year, Jews accounted for 15% of all immigrants to the U.S., and in the following year the figure rose to 17%. On the other hand, during 1921–24 the number of Jewish emigrants from the U.S. amounted to less than 1% of the number of Jewish immigrants. In Palestine, newly under British Mandatory rule, increased Jewish immigration came in response to the promise of a Jewish National Home. During 1919–26 (Third Aliyah and major part of the Fourth Aliyah), nearly 100,000 Jews immigrated to Ereẓ Israel. Other streams of Jewish migrants found their way to South America.

In Europe, the tendency continued for Jews to move from countries in the east to Central and Western Europe. The post-World War i migration impetus, which continued, as it were, the prewar trend, was soon halted by a combination of factors, among which the following were outstanding:

restrictions on immigration

In the U.S., the previously almost unfettered influx of overseas migrants was curbed by two laws, enacted in 1921 and 1924. The limitations imposed by the second law – annual quotas for each country of origin, amounting to no more than 2% of the respective immigrant population already in the country at the comparatively early date of 1890 – affected with particular intensity prospective migrants from Eastern Europe, i.e., from the main area of Jewish emigration. The number of Jewish immigrants to the U.S. was thus forced down drastically: it declined to little more than 10,000 per annum during 1925–30. The other main immigration countries for Jews also increasingly curbed immigration,

Country of destination1915–May 1948 Total1915–19311932–19391940–May 1948
Absolute NumbersPercentAbsolute NumbersPercentAbsolute NumbersPercentAbsolute NumbersPercent
1 Includes migrants from Asian countries to Ereẓ Israel; excludes internal migration between the European and Asian parts of the U.S.S.R. and remigration to region of origin.
2 Up to 1931: Eastern Europe (inc. U.S.S.R.); 1932–May 1948; total Europe (excl. U.S.S.R.).
United States65041415551102012542
Other Latin American countries14096596011155
South Africa25115210200
Ereẓ Israel48530115152504612040
Yearly average of migrants
Absolute numbers (thousands)
Per 1,000 of Jewish population in whole world3.
Per 1,000 of Jewish population in main emigration7.86.310.28.7

through legislation and administrative practice, by reducing the overall number of immigrants permitted and/or by insisting on financial and other requirements for their admission. Restrictions were created both in overseas countries – e.g., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Palestine (quotas based on economic "absorptive capacity") – and in Western Europe.

obstacles to emigration

After the first few years of the Communist regime, the Soviet Union began to frown on emigration and soon brought it virtually to a standstill.

political and economic conditions

After the political and economic dislocations in Europe in the wake of World War i, which had also adversely affected many Jews, a stabilization occurred there. In Palestine, on the other hand, there were absorption difficulties and unemployment, leading to relatively considerable emigration in the later part of the 1920s. In the second half of the 1920s a majority of the then comparatively infrequent Jewish overseas migrants went to countries other than either the U.S. or Palestine – especially to Latin America.

In the 1930s, the objective motivation for Jewish emigration from Central and Eastern Europe increased tragically, but the would-be migrants encountered ever growing difficulties in gaining admission to other countries. The special motivation for departure arose from the accession of Hitler to power in Germany, the spread of authoritarian and more-or-less overtly antisemitic regimes in other states of Europe, and the great economic depression, which affected the livelihood of many Jews and provided further incentive to antisemitic agitation. However, with cruel irony, the very factors which made Jews wish to leave rendered prospective immigration countries unwilling to admit considerable numbers of Jews, so as to avoid aggravating their own international and internal problems. The more desperate the need to escape became for large numbers of Jews, the more tightly most prospective immigration countries shut the gates of entrance.

Whereas prior to World War i Jewish long-distance migration was strongly determined by economic considerations, from the 1930s until quite recently it has been predominantly a movement of refugees trying to escape oppression and unable to return to their former land for political, racial, or religious reasons. As opportunity allowed, Jews escaped from Nazi horrors, from antisemitism and Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and, especially after 1948, from the outbursts of intolerance and fanaticism in Arab lands. International efforts in the Nazi period to mitigate the plight of the Jewish refugees and find them new homes – e.g., through appointment of a special high commissioner for refugees by the League of Nations as early as in the autumn of 1933 and through the *Evian Conference of 1938 – led to few tangible results.

In the history of Jewish migration, the 1930s are characterized by the following traits: the prominence of emigrants from Central Europe – Germany and, toward the end of the decade, Austria and Czechoslovakia (about 350,000 Jews are estimated to have left Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War ii); the continuation of departures from Eastern Europe (except for the U.S.S.R., where exit was barred); and the growth in importance of Palestine as a major destination for Jewish refugees (in addition to the continuing idealistic motives for aliyah). During the period 1932–39, nearly one half of all intercontinental Jewish migrants turned to Palestine (Fifth Aliyah). In the years 1934–36, Palestine attracted even a strong majority of the intercontinental Jewish migrants. Then the protracted Arab riots (1936–39) led to a deterioration of the British authorities' immigration

YearUnited States 2Ereẓ Israel 3
1 Official immigration statistics from Ereẓ Israel are available as from 1919; in the United States, the category "Hebrew" was included in official migration statistics only between 1899–1943.
2 In the United States, fiscal year, i.e., the 12 months ending in June of year indicated.
3 Includes tourists settling.
Jan–May 1948..17,165

policy toward the Jews. Under the shadow of the impending world war, the British promulgated the White Paper of May 1939, which severely curtailed Jewish immigration for the following five years and virtually provided for its cessation at the close of that period. A consequence of this policy were organized and partly successful attempts at *"Illegal" immigration to Palestine.

During 1932–39 the U.S. and Canada together received only a fifth of the total intercontinental Jewish migrants. It was only when the above-mentioned restrictions on Jewish entry into Palestine were applied and World War ii broke out (the U.S. did not join in the hostilities until the end of 1941) that Jewish immigration to the U.S. rose to more than 120,000 during 1938–42. In some of those years, Jewish immigration to the U.S. constituted a majority of both total Jewish intercontinental migration and of general immigration to the U.S. The 1930s also witnessed a considerable amount of international migration of Jews within Europe, from the central and eastern parts of the area (outside U.S.S.R.) to countries of Western Europe.

As the German armies swept over most of continental Europe, there were tragically few opportunities for the Jews to leave Nazi dominated areas. The most notable exception was in the east, where many Soviet Jews, together with Jews from Poland and other neighboring countries, managed to retreat before the invaders. Many joined the armed struggle against the common enemy; a large proportion of the Jewish civilians who were thus saved spent the remaining war years in Soviet Siberia and Central Asia. Sweden gave refuge to the Jews of occupied Denmark. On the whole, however, millions of European Jews remained confined under Nazi sway, left to their fate by an indifferent world engrossed in war. No more than 45,000 Jews were allowed to reach Palestine during the five years 1940–44. Among the "illegal" immigrants who were turned back from the shores of Palestine by the British, hundreds of lives were lost in tragic events such as the explosion on board the Patria in 1940 and the sinking of the Struma in the Black Sea in 1942. On the other hand, among the seven to eight million Jews caught in Nazi-dominated areas of Europe, the intensity of movement from one place to another reached fantastic heights. Most of the Jews were driven from their homes to be deported and crammed into ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps, and extermination camps or transferred from one to another of those places of horror. Only a small minority could join the partisans, go into hiding, escape into Soviet or neutral territory, etc. Except for those executed forthwith in their locality of residence, nearly all Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe "migrated" before the eventual doom overcame most of them.

After the war there was a reverse movement – back to previous places of residence, on a much smaller numerical scale, due to the paucity of survivors. This return migration took place within the areas previously occupied by the Nazis and as a repatriation movement of Polish and other Eastern European Jews from the Soviet Union. Jews also participated in some of the new population transfers in Eastern Europe from territories newly incorporated into the Soviet Union (eastern Poland, Bessarabia, Carpatho-Ruthenia) to other territories, some of which had been vacated by former German inhabitants (Silesia). The Jewish repatriates to places in Eastern Europe, however, found themselves haunted not only by the memory of their families and fellow Jews who had been maltreated and killed there, but also by fresh outbursts of antisemitism and active hostility toward the repatriates (e.g., the pogrom in *Kielce, Poland, in 1946). Many therefore moved to *Displaced Persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, which accommodated about a quarter of a million Jews at the end of 1946. Most of them fervently wished to go to Ereẓ Israel and start a new life there. But the British authorities admitted little more than 70,000 Jews from 1945 to May 1948, turning back many "illegal" immigrants (e.g., the passengers of the Exodus in 1947) or interning them in Cyprus; the dp camps were emptied only after the establishment of the State of Israel. A smaller stream of dps went to the U.S., where emergency legislation granted admission above the usual quotas. The following international organizations and Jewish bodies played a prominent part in the care, transportation, and resettlement of the dps: unrra (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), iro (International Refugee Organization), the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee, the *Jewish Agency for Palestine, hias (Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society), the *World Jewish Congress, etc.

There was a high proportion of young adults among the migrants to Palestine throughout the Mandatory period (1919–May 1948) in keeping with the pioneering character of many of the newcomers (ḥalutzim), part of whom had received agricultural training prior to leaving their countries of origin. The proportion of young adults was particularly high among the "illegal" immigrants. Although the adjustment of Jewish overseas migrants to their new surroundings was universally necessary, a special situation existed in Palestine because of the emphasis of Zionist ideology on manual, and especially agricultural, work and the dynamic process of creating a new nation consisting of all economic and social strata. On the other hand, the age composition and occupational structure of the Jewish immigrants to the U.S. in the Nazi period reflected the "aging," as well as the considerable proportion of liberal professions and commerce, characteristic of Central European Jews at that time.

Throughout the period 1915–48 there was also a large volume of Jewish migration within countries. The case of the vast Soviet Union is of particular importance in discussing interregional migrations. After the abolition of the *Pale of Settlement following the Revolution (1917), hundreds of thousands of Jews moved into the central and southern parts of the country. Subsequent transfers of Jews to Siberia – not only to *Birobidzhan with its ill-starred experiment of Jewish territorial autonomy focusing on agriculture, but especially to new industrial centers that were set up in Siberia – became increasingly important. In addition, in most countries of the world, the urbanization of the Jews was accentuated by residential changes from smaller to larger localities, and especially to the biggest population centers of each country. In most cases Jewish overseas migrants turned directly to the main urban centers of their new country. Compared with this predominant trend, the movement to Jewish agricultural settlement – in Palestine, Argentina, Crimea – was of minor numerical importance.

[Usiel Oscar Schmelz]

Demographic and Economic Dimensions of International Migration: World Jewry and Israel (1948–2005)


The study of international migration concerning the State of Israel revolves around five main issues that have attracted extremely unequal amounts of attention among researchers: (a) Jewish immigration (aliyah); (b) the Palestinian exodus of 1948–49; (c) Jewish emigration (yeridah); (d) labor immigration (legal or illegal), largely of a temporary character; and (e) family reunions (mostly of Palestinians into Israel). The terms aliyah (ascent) for immigration and yeridah (descent) for emigration indicate widespread value judgments toward these sociodemographic processes in Israeli society. Most of past research on Israel's migrations has focused on aliyah and longer-term immigrant absorption. This exposition attempts to briefly review each of the main aspects though it is naturally influenced by the diverse amount and quality of available data.

the diaspora and world jewish migration

Israel is the successor country of the Jewish state established together with the Arab state by the un General Assembly in its November 29, 1947, Resolution 181 decreeing the end of British Mandate and the partition of Palestine. In its Declaration of Independence in May 1948, the State of Israel affirmed its aim to serve both as the focal point for Jews worldwide and a democratic society offering equal civil and cultural rights to all citizens, irrespective of religious and ethnic origin. The demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural development of Israel cannot be understood without considering the key role played by immigration. It is therefore necessary to examine immigration first, and to analyze migration to, and from, Israel in the framework of a broader world Jewish migration system.

The call for mass immigration through the "ingathering of the exiles" and the "fusion of the diasporas" constituted basic tenets of the new society, legally sanctioned through the Law of Return (Ḥok ha-Shevut). Adopted in 1950, this law was the founding instrument of immigration policy. It established a broad definitional framework granting virtually unlimited immigration rights and Israeli citizenship to Jews, their children, grandchildren, and the respective spouses, irrespective of their religious or national affiliation. This entailed the related concepts of core Jewish population, and enlarged Jewish population, including persons of Jewish origin but currently of another denomination and other non-Jewish household members (see Table 6: Jewish Intercontinental Migration, May 1948–1964).

During the late stages of the Ottoman Empire, and to a larger extent under the post-World War i British Mandate, migration to Palestine led to the growth of the Jewish community (yishuv) from 43,000 in 1890 to half a million in 1945. During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, when the entire territory of Palestine hosted a large majority of Arabs, Jewish immigration significantly contributed to create the modern socio-economic and logistical infrastructure in the country. Rapid economic development in areas of heavier Jewish settlement along the Mediterranean coast and in Upper and Lower Galilee also stimulated internal migration from other parts of Palestine.

During the 1948–49 War of Independence, a large part of the Arab population of the territories allocated to the Jewish state by the un fled the area, leading to what has since become the Palestinian refugee problem. According to Israeli sources, the number of Arabs who left the territory under Israeli control was estimated at between 625,000 and 650,000. Higher estimates exist and reflect conflicting views of the same history, namely competing evaluations of the size of the Arab population in the Jewish areas in 1948, and the permanent status as residents of some of those who fled, or who were cut off from their main sources of economic support there.

At the time of independence in 1948 the population of Israel comprised 630,000 Jews. An estimated 156,000 Arabs remained in Israel at the end of 1949. Between 1948 and the end of 2003, Israel's total net migration balance amounted to 2,385,800 individuals (excluding the exodus of Palestinian refugees). This resulted from 2,990,800 new immigrants and immigrant citizens and 605,000 emigrants, or a ratio of about five immigrants per single emigrant. Of the total international migration net balance in 1948–2003, 2,153,200 were Jewish, 158,000 were non-Jewish family members of the latter, 40,200 were Arabs (Muslims, Christians, and Druze), and another 34,400 otherwise unaccounted for probably reflected reclassification of group identifications and other data corrections.

In early 2005, Israel's population totaled 6,864,000, excluding the Palestinian population of West Bank and Gaza areas occupied and administered by Israel since the 1967 war, and partly transferred to the Palestinian Authority following the 1993 Oslo agreements. Of the total Israeli population, 5,234,800 were Jewish and 290,300 were non-Jewish members of Jewish households, making a total of 5,525,100. Of Israel's ethnically Arab population of 1,338,900, the vast majority (82%) were Palestinian Muslims, the rest being nearly equally split between Christian Arabs of various denominations (primarily Greek Orthodox) and Druze. These figures include about 240,000 Arabs residents of the area of East Jerusalem annexed by Israel in 1967, about 15,000 Druze residents of the Golan Heights, as well as 237,000 Israeli residents of the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, the number of Jewish residents in East Jerusalem neighborhoods is estimated at 185,000.

The changing structure and feedback of modern Jewish international migration fit a systemic perspective. The number, direction, and characteristics of Jewish migrants at any time were significantly determined by the existing worldwide distribution of Jews (see Table 7: Jewish Population Estimates, by Major Religions, 1900–2005) – which was in turn largely the product of previous migration. Between 1880 and 2004, over nine million Jews migrated between countries (see Table 8: Jewish International Migration, 1969–2002). Of these, about 2.4 million moved between 1880 and 1918, 1.6 million between 1919 and 1948, 1.9 million between 1948 and 1968, and about 3 million between 1969 and 2004. These figures do not include another several hundred thousand Jews who migrated between neighboring countries within the same continent (in addition to Israel and the United States), nor do they provide a full account of return migration. What they do include is the significant migration of Jews from North Africa to Western Europe, particularly from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia to France, and from Libya and Egypt to Italy between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. The departure to Europe and in part to North and Latin America of these over 300,000 Jewish migrants,

Country of destinationTotal May 1948–1964May 1948–19511952–19541955–19571958–19601961–1964
1 Includes migrants from Asian countries to Ereẓ Israel; excludes internal migration between the European and Asian parts of the U.S.S.R. and remigration to region of origin.
2 May 1948–1951: total Europe (excluding U.S.S.R.), Asia (excluding Israel and U.S.S.R.), North Africa. 1952–1964: Eastern Europe (excluding U.S.S.R.), Asia (excluding Israel and U.S.S.R.), North Africa.
Absolute Numbers (thousands)
United States, Canada24010530303045
thereof: Europe2553035190
United States, Canada141230122110
Yearly average of migrants
Absolute numbers (thousands)106233338148112
Per 1,000 of in whole world8.619.
Jewish population in main emigrations regions²82.592.872.847.8144.9
a Palestine until 14 May 1948; Israel since 15 May, 1948.
b The Asian regions of Russia and Turkey are included in Europe.
c Population of seven countries formerly in East Europe which joined the EU in 2004 was included in West Europe.
d Including the republics of the former Soviet Union in Asia.
e Including Ethiopia.
f USA and Canada.
g South Africa, Zimbabwe, and other sub-Saharan countries.
h Australia, New Zealand.
Total (thousands)10,60016,50011,18512,63313,033
Total (%)100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0
East Europeb71.649.423.815.62.9c
West Europe11.
Other Asiab, d3.
North Africae2.
North Americaf9.730.045.645.043.4
Latin America0.
Southern Africag, Oceaniah0.
Areas of origin and destination1969-19761977-19881989-19961997-2002Total
a Since 1970 includes immigrant citizens (from West).
b Since 1990, Asian regions of fsu included in Asia-Africa.
c All emigration from Israel included here.
Absolute numbers (thousands)
Grand total4515891,2405352,815
Yearly average56491558983
Grand total100100100100100
From Eastern Europe3941646255
To Western countries829232522
To Israela3212413633
From Asia-Africab1414191016
To Western countries57113
To Israela9818913
From Israel to Western countries2024111716
From Western countries to Israela272051213
Regional subtotals
To Western countries3360354341
To Israela6740655759
Percent to Israel
Out of total Eastern Europe8071645960
Out of total Asia-Africa6453959081
Yearly emigration per 1000 Jews in country of origin
Grand total441276
From Eastern Europe10121109751
To Western countries28384020
To Israela83725731
From Asia-Africab447314613497
To Western countries1432421327
To Israel30409412170
From Israel to Western countriesc43434
From Western countries to Israela21111

along with the larger contingents that moved to Israel, virtually put an end to the bi-millenarian Jewish presence in North Africa, and substantially strengthened the Jewish communities in Europe.

Of all Jewish international migrants, Palestine – and since 1948 Israel – was the country of destination of 3% in 1880–1918, 30% in 1919–48, 69% in 1948–68, 52% in 1969–88, and 61% in 1989–2004. Between 1948 and 2003, Israel attracted 73% of the total Jewish emigration from North Africa and the Middle East, and 65% of the total from Eastern Europe. Since 1969, the percent of Jewish migrants choosing Israel from each main region reached 81% and 60%, respectively (Table 8).

YearNumberPercent born in Europe, America, or Oceania ,
1 Including tourists settling.
May–Dec. 1948101,82887.3

Jewish emigration propensities relative to local Jewish population size were consistently the highest from countries in North Africa and the Middle East, substantially high from Eastern Europe and the Balkans though reflecting highly variable opportunities to exit, comparatively low from Israel, and the lowest from the aggregate of Western countries. More recently (1969–2002), rates of emigration of Jews to any destination per 1,000 Jewish residents in each area were 97, 51, 4, and 1, respectively (Table 8).

The continuous wave-like pattern of Jewish international migration demonstrates recurrent crises involving discrimination and violence which negatively affected the position of Jewish communities in different parts of the world. The consequent need for prompt and large-scale relocation, and recurring limitations in the volume of migrants allowed to leave their countries of origin or to enter new countries of destination, greatly affected the total number of migrants. The Jewish Diaspora has been highly dependent on changing political, socioeconomic, and cultural circumstances in the respective countries of residence. In this respect, the virtual disappearance of sizeable Jewish communities in Muslim countries, the marked decline in Eastern Europe, and the growing concentration in North America and Israel were particularly evident (Table 9).

external migration of palestinians

Besides the already noted question of Palestinian refugees, since 1967 Israel has been in total or partial control of the West Bank and Gaza, particularly concerning points of access to and from the outside. The Israeli border authorities have regularly collected data on Palestinian population movements across the border. These data are not fully comparable with data collected on Israeli population movements, and should only be taken as roughly indicative. However, major changes that appear over time do reflect real migration trends – whether temporary or definitive.

Over the extended period September 1967–2003, the total external migration balance of the West Bank and Gaza was 356,000, of which 88,000 was since 1995. A surplus of 29,000 immigrants and return migrants was only recorded (see Table 10: External Migration of Palestinians, 1967–2003) in 1990–94, after the 1991 Gulf War, and especially after the Oslo agreements. The generally negative migration balance significantly spread to Jordan and across the Gulf States.


Migration between the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel was not systematically recorded. According to reports from Israel's Ministry of the Interior Population Register, about 130,000 Palestinians obtained a residence permit in Israel on the grounds of family reunion. However, population updates by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics do not support this assumption. During prolonged periods since 1967, large numbers of Palestinians worked on a regular basis as commuters or temporary residents within Israel. Following the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) of the late 1980s and early 1990s the numbers declined significantly. After a short recovery, the second Intifada, which started in September 2000, virtually put an end to this form of economic migration.

immigration into israel.

Current Flows, Including Return Migration. Israel's Ministry of the Interior's file of Border Check Post provides basic information on the number and characteristics of new immigrants and of departing and returning residents. The data are processed by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. In addition, periodic census data provide information about population characteristics of immigrant stocks.

Immigration to Israel reflected the changing balance of circumstances in the Jewish Diaspora as well as in Israeli society. Between the various determinants, by far the most dominant were push (negative) and hold (positive) factors in the countries of origin of migrants. The intensity of pull (positive) and repel (negative) factors operating in Israel, while not negligible, played a complementary role. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the choice of Israel as a destination country reflected not only socio-economic processes that usually govern international migration, but also the powerful historical and cultural grounds for migration decisions. Indeed, Israel's economic ranking improved from being a poor country in 1948 to 24th worldwide in 1975 and to 22nd in 2002, but other countries in North America and Western Europe continued to offer a better standard of living.

Immigration occurred in waves, each dominated by a particular sub-set of countries of origin (see Figure 1 and Table 11: Jewish Immigrants to Israel, 1948–2004). The initial wave of immigration brought in 688,000 people, thus doubling Israel's population within the first three years of its existence through annual immigration impacts above 25% of the absorbing population in the country of destination. Subsequent waves of immigration in Israel were progressively weaker until the major influx of 1990–91 that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union. While the annual numbers of immigrants were comparable, the relative impact fell on a much larger veteran population and could be absorbed with fewer traumas.

The first major wave of migration to Israel (1948–51) included survivors of the destroyed Jewish communities in Eastern, Central, and Balkan Europe, as well as the transfer of the substantial majority of Jewish populations of Muslim countries such as Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Bulgaria. Subsequent waves included large contingents from Romania, Hungary, and the Maghreb (1953–64), the United States and Western Europe (1968–72), and then predominantly the Soviet Union (1967–77), Ethiopia (the 1980s), and since the end of 1989 the major wave from the Former Soviet Union (fsu).

Period of ImmigrationTotal in Period (1,000s)Annual Average%
a As from 1970 including non-Jewish family members of immigrants.
b As of 15 May.
c Including country not reported. Not including immigrant citizens.

The Foreign-Born Israeli Population

As a consequence of steady immigration, a high proportion of the Israeli population was foreign-born, but fairly high birthrates have progressively reduced the rate of foreign-born to native-born Israelis. Out of the total Jewish population, the share of foreign-born steadily declined from 65% in 1948 to 36% in 2004. Accounting for Israel's Arab population (excluding the territories), and assuming all of the latter was local-born, the share of foreign-born fell from 53% in 1948, to 29% in 2004.


The demographic, socio-economic, and socio-cultural characteristics of the Jewish population worldwide significantly affected the differential probability of deciding to emigrate, and the choice of destination country.

Demographic Characteristics

Because of its political-cultural – rather than merely economic – background, immigration to Israel tended to be more permanent, and less likely to be followed by return migration, than in other major countries of immigration. It was also less structurally selective than other migration streams. Entire families moved, including men and women across the age range rather than mostly young single males. This involved comparatively high dependency ratios and a high absorption burden. Wide socio-demographic gaps separated Jewish Diaspora communities that had undergone modernization to different degrees, particularly Jewish populations in Europe versus North Africa and the Middle East. Jewish migration to Israel included more children and elderly dependents than did Jewish migration from similar countries of origin to Western countries such as the United States or France.

Socio-Economic Characteristics

Jews abroad usually had a higher than average level of education and tended to concentrate in trade, selected branches of industry, and the liberal professions. The probability of emigrating was higher at the upper and lower extremes of the social spectrum in Jewish society. Israel absorbed a comparatively higher share of migrants previously employed in trade and blue-collar occupations. Structural differences were especially notable in the case of Jewish migration from North Africa to France and to Israel during the 1950s and 1960s. Immigration from Western countries and the more recent wave of immigration from the fsu contributed high proportions of university graduates and improved the quality of Israel's labor force. Different levels of modernization and socio-economic development attained by Jewish communities in the respective countries of origin generated internal social gaps within the new framework of Israeli society. Programs to ensure equal access to higher education have gradually reduced the gaps which, however, still persist in the second generation of immigrants.

Ethno-Religious Identification

The Law of Return was designed to promote Jewish immigration, but immigrants who arrived as families or as communities included a growing minority of non-Jews. The growing assimilation of Jews in the Diaspora in recent decades translated into a high percentage of mixed marriages. On the other hand, some communities had maintained intensive links to traditional Jewish religion and culture (including separate religious school systems). This entailed wide variations among types of immigrant and helped generate the diversified socio-cultural nature of Israeli society, and internal ideological tensions mostly stemming from the relation between the state and religion.

Economic, Legal, or Illegal Migrants, Refugees

The mechanisms of mass immigration to Israel also underlie the – often irreversible – nature of such migration. Emigration to Israel often means loss of citizenship and civil rights in the country of origin, making it impossible to return there. Most Israeli immigration from North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe thus corresponds to ex post facto refugee movements.

Since the 1990s, with Israel's rapidly growing economy, and following the halt on Palestinian labor in connection with the first and second Intifadas, there has been a significant increase in the influx of foreign labor. Many of these (non-Jewish) workers from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Balkans tend to remain after their working permits have expired. The numbers of actual – i.e., legal and illegal – foreign workers are not accurately documented. Estimates for 2004 ranged around 190,000, but the government's policy of forced expulsion attempts to significantly reduce this number.

israeli emigration

Definitions and Data

While immigration and the absorption of immigrants lie at the core of societal and research focus in Israel, emigration remains both a sensitive and comparatively little researched subject. The very definition of an emigrant is beset with difficulties. In the past, data were collected on the reasons for leaving the country, including emigration. However, the information proved highly unreliable and data collection was discontinued in the early 1960s. Given the lack of precise data on numbers of emigrants, indirect estimates can be obtained on the basis of different operational criteria. Long-term absentees, i.e., people leaving and not returning for a period of several years, provided the customary basis for emigration estimates. Another measure compares the known number of new immigrants and returning residents with the annual international migration balance which also reflects permanent residents who traveled abroad and did not return within a period of 12 months. The latter is a measure of actual absence rather than of permanent emigration.

Major Trends and Differentials

The absolute number of annual emigrants including return migration increased over time, but reflecting more rapid population growth emigration rates per 1,000 resident population consistently declined from the late Ottoman period, the British Mandate, and after Israel's independence. Over the period 1949–2004, based on any of the mentioned measures, the annual number of emigrants never fell below 5,000 or exceeded 28,000. The number of emigrants from Israel regularly fell short of the number of new immigrants, with the exception of 1953, 1981, 1985, 1986, and 1988 in which the Israeli economy was especially under stress.

Between 1948 and the end of 2003 over 700,000 Israeli residents left the country and did not return. This figure includes over 100,000 Israeli residents who had been abroad for less than a year in 2003 and, based on the experience of previous years, could be expected to return in the short term. The total number of Israeli residents settled or planning to settle abroad for a period of four years or more at the end of 2003 could thus be estimated at about 600,000, but the number of those returning after a longer absence was not negligible. If one adds the estimated number of children born abroad to these persons, we arrive at a total pool of over 750,000 former Israeli residents and descendants living abroad or about 11% of the total Israeli population. These figures should be evaluated in the light of the marked increase in the numbers of Israelis who travel abroad. The annual number of departures grew from 30,000 in 1950 to 3,530,000 in 2000. The proportion of Arabs was generally smaller among emigrants than among residents in Israel.

Emigrants from Israel belong to one of three distinct groups: former immigrants returning to their country of origin; former immigrants emigrating to a third country; and emigrants born and raised in Israel. The propensities of emigrating differ according to specific socio-demographic characteristics; thus emigration was more frequent among young adults (aged 20–39), single people, and the better educated. Among former immigrants, there was a greater concentration of emigrants among persons entering Israel with a visa of "potential immigrant" (as compared to "immigrant"), who had lived in Israel for a relatively short period, or who had been born in Western Europe or North America.

The main countries of destination for Israeli emigrants were the United States, France, Canada, and Western countries in general. The largest pool of former Israelis is located in the United States, where it is estimated at over 200,000. The much higher figures sometimes circulated are not confirmed by research. In Europe, too, census figures of the respective countries reveal a much lower total than that commonly reported. Around 2004 the total officially reported number of Israeli citizens in Europe approached 40,000. Since 1991, a modest amount of re-emigration to the fsu has been recorded. The opportunity to enter a country, and the presence there of relatives, constituted a significant factor in the volume of emigration and in the choice of destination country.

Determinants and Consequences

Explanations of emigration from Israel have tended to focus on three factors. First, levels of immigration in the immediately preceding period, insofar as the early stages of immigrant absorption in the new country tend to be characterized by instability, but the probability of remaining (not re-emigrating) tend to increase the longer they remain. Major waves of immigration usually generate a minor wave of emigration with a few years' lag. Second, changing economic circumstances in Israel have an impact on emigration insofar as the latter tends to increase in years with diminishing levels of public investment, declining income, rising inflation, and unemployment. Third, albeit to a lesser extent, the security situation as expressed by major events such as wars or by the cumulative burden of military service (including reserve duty) impacts indirectly on the choice to emigrate or re-emigrate.

Therefore emigration is more strongly related to push factors in Israeli society than to pull factors abroad. Emigration from Israel resembles that for other countries with similar levels of development. Rates of emigration per 1,000 population closely match the levels of immigration to Israel per 1,000 Jews in countries with a level of development similar to that of Israel. Emigration from Israel differs markedly from large-scale Jewish migrations driven by the objective of permanent resettlement in new countries. The tendency towards further return migration to Israel is quite high.

At the same time, further attention should be paid to the longer-term picture of Israeli emigration. While Israeli immigration was long influenced by a commitment to building a new society by enhancing Jewish cultural, religious, and national values, emigration indicates a diminishing salience of these factors. Partial evidence indicates that the probability of emigrating is likely to be higher among those whose feelings of Jewishness and Israeli identity are weaker.

A little studied aspect of Israeli emigration concerns the economic impact of emigrants on the Israeli economy. It is not possible to provide a direct evaluation of the amounts of capital transferred by emigrants. However, total individual remittances (excluding personal payments from Germany) can be compiled from data on the balance of payments. Clearly, such transfers do not concern Israeli emigrants only, but rather the whole Jewish Diaspora which – while viewed by the Law of Return as a virtual target for future immigration – comprises a vastly large population. During the late 1990s and early 2000s the yearly amount transferred fluctuated around $ 1 billion and represented roughly 1 percent of the total Gross National Product (see Table 12: Net Personal Remittances, and Percent of gnp, 1995–2004).

YearPersonal remittances (net) $ millions aGNP b$ millionsPersonal remittances (net) as % of GNP
a. Other than personal restitutions from Germany. Source: Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2005, Table 15.2.
b. GDP plus total net transfers. Computed from GDP at current NIS value (Table 14.2) and NIS-$ rate of exchange (Table 17.3).

concluding remarks

There is a strong linkage between the country of residence and the probability of emigrating. Given the fact that most of the Jewish Diaspora currently resides in the more developed Western countries, further waves of large-scale immigration to Israel are unlikely in the near future, and only significant dislocations would reverse this situation. On the other hand, emigration from Israel is significantly determined by economic forecasts which in turn respond to broader geopolitical factors, namely security and the outcome of the peace process. Developments in the latter dimensions, both locally and internationally, will indeed determine the future migration balance of the State of Israel.

[Sergio DellaPergola (2nd ed.)]

add. bibliography:

R. Bachi, The Population of Israel (1977); Council of Europe, Recent Demographic Developments in Europe (2004); S. DellaPergola, "The Global Context of Migration to Israel," in: E. Leshem and J.T. Shuval (eds.), Immigration to Israel: Sociological Perspectives, Studies of Israeli Society, 8 (1998), 51–92; S. DellaPergola, "World Jewish Population," in: American Jewish Year Book, The American Jewish Committee, yearly publication; S. DellaPergola, U. Rebhun, M. Tolts, "Contemporary Jewish Diaspora in Global Context: Human Development Correlates of Population Trends," in: Israel Studies, 10:1 (2005), 61–95; S.N. Eisenstadt, The Absorption of Immigrants (1954); D. Friedlander and C. Goldscheider, The Population of Israel (1979); S.J. Gold, The Israeli Diaspora (2002); hias – Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Statistical Report, New York, yearly publication; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Israel, Jerusalem, yearly publication; idem, Immigration to Israel, Jerusalem, yearly publication; Jewish Agency for Israel, Statistical Report, Jerusalem, yearly publication; U.O. Schmelz, S. DellaPergola, U. Avner, Ethnic Differences among Israeli Jews: A New Look (1991); J.T. Shuval, E. Leshem, "The Sociology of Migration in Israel: A Critical View," in: E. Leshem, J.T. Shuval (eds.), Immigration to Israel: Sociological Perspectives, Studies of Israeli Society, 8 (1998), 3–50; M. Sicron, Immigration to Israel 1948–1953 (1957); M. Sicron and E. Leshem, The Absorption Process of Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, 1990–1995 (Heb., 1998); United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report (2004).

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