Election Chronicles > Elections > 1951 Elections

1951 Elections

 

Elections for the second Knesset were held on 30 July 1951 in the shadow of a severe economic crisis in the young state. In the period between the first and second elections, Israel had absorbed some half a million new immigrants, a number that approximated the total population prior to the establishment of the state. Absorption of this mass immigration put a strain on the state's economy and impelled the government to adopt austerity policies. The economy was among the issues in dispute. The issue of religion and state was another focal point in the political crisis. An ideological and material dispute waged between the ruling Mapai party and the religious parties over the education of immigrant children and IDF conscription for women. The Mapai was also at loggerheads with the General Zionist Party ("Zionim Klali'im", which opposed the austerity policies and advocated a liberal economy that would be able to self-regulate.
 

 

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Uniform Education

There have been various streams of education in the State of Israel since its inception. Parents could choose whether to send their children to the general education system, the workers' system, the Mizrahi system or that of Agudat Yisrael. Israelis had this freedom even prior to the 1953 legislation of the State Education Law. In the early years of the state however, the immigrant camps were the exception.

 

Mass immigration to the young state compelled the authorities to house many immigrants in temporary camps. In these camps, all children were given the same education, regardless of traditions, customs or religious affiliation. This was part of a "melting pot" policy according to which the immigrant was to assume a new, Israeli, identity upon arrival in Israel, shedding the old "diaspora" self. This uniform education was imposed on the immigrants in the camps.

 

 

 

Complaints about this uniform education soon arose. The religiously observant immigrants from Yemen felt particularly slighted. The uniform education was far removed from what they were accustomed to. Girls and boys studied together; the emphasis was on civil "sabra" studies with a view to helping the young generation adapt to life in the modern state.

 

 

 

The uniform education issue quickly became the center of a political outcry. In December 1949, MK David Tsvi submitted an inquiry to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, in which he claimed that the state was guilty of religious coercion, an inquisition, in that it exploited the circumstances in which the immigrants in the camps found themselves. The public outcry worsened and in 1950 Ben Gurion convened a commission of inquiry headed by Judge Emeritus Gad Frumkin. The commission's conclusions were presented on May 9, 1950, and not only contained sharp critique of the uniform education system, but also on how it was implemented, especially with regard to immigrant children. The commission determined that cutting of the side locks of the immigrant children was systematic, but that Torah education was systematically undermined and observance of the Sabbath and prayer systematically interrupted. Although the commission acknowledged that these findings were not the result of intentional religious coercion, it declared that education in the camps had not been implemented in an acceptable manner and was even tainted with partisan interests. It denounced the neglect of religious education in the immigrant camps.

 

 

 

As a result of the findings of the Frumkin Commission, which is considered the first state commission of inquiry in Israel (though the law regarding commissions of inquiry had yet to be enacted), the Mapai party reached an agreement with the religious alliance regarding separate education for Yemenite children in the camps. Still, the report remained at the center of political disputes in the Knesset and the crisis between the Mapai and the religious alliance deepened, ultimately leading to elections for the second Knesset.

 

 

 

מודעה של רשימת ספרדים ובני עדות המזרח
 
Conscription of Women
​The Security Service Law of 1949 declared conscription compulsory for the entire population of the State of Israel, including women. With this, the State of Israel became the only country in the world to require women to do military service. The law was fiercely opposed by the religious public and the parties that represented it. David Ben Gurion, however, stood his ground and refused to exempt religious women from conscription. It was however, determined that women would be permitted to declare that for reasons of conscience or religious recognition, they were prohibited from serving in the IDF. This was far from a solution. The option of obtaining exemption on the basis of a declaration alone made it possible for many women to avoid serving, and the issue has remained one of concern in Israeli society from 1949 to this very day.

The dispute over women serving in the IDF is rooted in the early days of Zionism. From the first settlements and pioneering youth movements, to the War of Independence, many women were actively involved as guards, soldiers and even commanders. In 1948, when the IDF was established, the women's army was set up. The intention was that women would guard settlements, fill combat support roles and administrative positions, but not engage in combat. The need arose to formalize the issue of women's military service in legislation.
Many religious groups saw the conscription of women as a tangible threat to religious society and a contravention of ancient traditions and principles. The issue quickly became the focus of dispute between the secular parties, led by Mapai, and the religious parties, some of whom were part of the first Mapai government. Naturally, the question of conscription of women was a central issue in the run up to the 1951 elections for the second Knesset.
מודעה במעריב נגד גיוס בנותמודעה נגד גיוס בנות
 
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​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

The Immigrant Vote
The elections for the second Knesset were actually the first elections for the Knesset per se, since the 1949 elections were for the National Assembly. After a year fraught with coalition crises, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion resigned in February 1951. Ben Gurion also decided to bring forward the elections for the Knesset, though the legal aspects of the situation were as yet unclear. Soon afterwards, in April, two laws were passed: a law authorizing transition to the second Knesset and a law dispersing the first Knesset and calling elections for July 30. Naturally, the question of who would be eligible to vote for the second Knesset arose.

 
It was decided that anyone who was resident in the State of Israel as of March 1, 1951 would be eligible to vote in the elections for the second Knesset. This meant that large numbers of immigrants who had come to Israel in the mass waves subsequent to the establishment of the state were eligible to vote. The number of eligible voters was thus almost doubled, from 506,507 in 1949, to 924,885 in 1951. In 1949 3,592 votes were needed in order to secure a single seat in the Knesset, while 6,875 were needed in 1951. The new immigrants were a deciding force in the elections for the second Knesset. The cutoff date for eligibility, March 1, 1951, was only five months from the date of the elections themselves. Thus, many immigrants new to the country, who had yet to learn the lay of the land, had limited Hebrew and were in the midst of the absorption process and a difficult acclimatization, were to determine the outcome of the elections.
 
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All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

David Ben Gurion

David Ben Gurion (1886-1973) was active on the public stage from the day he came to Palestine in 1906 with the Second Aliya (illegal immigration). By 1907 he had already attained a position of leadership in the Poalei Zion party and began energetically promoting the idea of an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. Shortly before World War I, he was deported from the country by the Turks. Upon his return, in 1920, he was elected first general secretary of the newly founded Histadrut (General Union of Laborers). He went on to assume leadership of the newly formed Mapai party in 1930, and was elected chair of the Zionist executive and the Jewish Agency in 1935. Ben Gurion thus became an important influence on politics, security and settlement during the British Mandate. In this capacity he led the political struggle against the "White Paper", which limited immigration and, when World War II broke out, worked to promote the Biltmore Program which advocated establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. In the period of struggle against the British after the War, Ben Gurion evaded arrest and managed the political struggle from abroad, along with preparation for the war he anticipated would break out with the establishment of the state. Subsequent to the United Nations decision on November 29, 1947, which paved the way to the establishment off a Jewish state alongside an Arab state, Ben Gurion led the process of setting up the state. On May 14, 1948, declared the establishment of the State of Israel and presented the temporary government. He himself served as both prime minister and minister of defense. Ben Gurion commanded the War of Independence, after which, in 1949 elections were held for the national assembly, which would later become the Knesset. Ben Gurion was the head of the Mapai party which he led in the 1951 early elections for the second Knesset. At the forefront of Ben Gurion's political agenda were the building of the land, mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews from Arab countries, and the military and economic security of the young state, which had arisen in the midst of war. His position was centralist socialist with an emphasis on military activism.

 
In 1953 Ben Gurion decided to retire from politics and settle on Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. In 1955 he returned to politics as Minister of defense in Sharett's government, led Mapai in elections that same year and served as prime ministers until 1963, when he resigned. In the 1965 elections, Ben Gurion headed Rafi, a new party that he has established. In the end, when Rafi joined the Ma'arach, Ben Gurion refused to be part of the broader framework. In 1969 he ran on the Mifleget Ha'am list, but resigned from the Knesset after the elections. David Ben Gurion passed away on December 1, 1973. 

   כינוס מפאי בהשתתפות בן גוריון

 
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All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

The Yemenite Union
The Yemenite Union was among the parties that ran for the second Knesset in the 1951 elections. This party had deep roots and a long history. Established in 1923 and represented in Zionist organizations and the early Jewish settlement in Palestine, the party's mission was to serve the interests of the Yemenite Jews in Israel and abroad.  Education was a central facet of its activities, especially in light of the orphans who had to be brought to Israel from Yemen and cared for. The party published the weekly Hamizrah (1938) and also undertook fundraising in the United States after failed attempts to do so in Yemen itself.

By the time the State of Israel was established, the Yemenite Union had a long history of clashes with the Histadrut (General Federation of Laborers) over worker representation in Histadrut organizations, financial issues, religion, preservation of the Yemenite community's unique customs, and more. The party won a single mandate in the 1949 elections for the National Assembly (later the Knesset). This minimal result was the result of Yemenite candidates choosing to run on other tickets, both for Mapai and on the right of the political spectrum. Internal rifts in the community were fertile ground for political agents seeking to secure the Yemenite vote, which was indeed split among various parties. The Yemenite Union also received a single mandate in the 1951 elections for the second Knesset. The 7,965 votes it received were a marked improvement on the 4,399 votes it had obtained in the 1949 elections. However, given the sharp increase in the number of voters since then, it transpired that the Yemenite Union had won only 1.2% of the vote, in comparison with 1% in 1949. The enormous wave of immigration from Yemen had not concentrated its electoral power on behalf of the Yemenite Union, thus condemning the party to disappear from the political map.
In 1950, Shimon Greidi edited and published a booklet entitled "Yemenite Jews in the State of Israel".

 
"Our difficult circumstances are what now enable all sorts of partisan sycophants and mercenaries with no conscience to tear our community apart and scatter its sons. The day is not far off, when the sycophants will regret their actions and the community, which is now spread between parties, against its will and unknowingly, will once again be united in a single framework, loyal to the nation, the Torah and its independence."
 

Shimon Greidi became the only representative of the Yemenite Union in the second Knesset. His hopeful vision was not to be realized.
 
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All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​