219. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree) to the Acting Secretary of State1


  • Israel Immigration


Reference is made to Mr. Phleger’s memorandum to you of March 11, 1957 (copy attached)2 concerning the Israel Ambassador’s statement that Israel expected to receive about 100,000 refugees during 1957—35,000 from Poland; 16,000 from Hungary; 25,000 from Egypt; and the residue from North Africa and Yemen.

An immigration totalling 100,000 to Israel during 1957 will represent a considerable increase over the last few years. Israel had 17,485 immigrants in 1954; 36,227 in 1955 and 22,149 during the first five months of 1956. The peak of Israel immigration was reached during the first three years of the establishment of the State when over 600,000 immigrants were received in Israel.

The expected immigration from Poland will represent almost the totality of Polish Jewry which survived Hitler. American Zionist leaders have informed us that the new regime in Poland has expressed its willingness to permit these people to depart because of a fear of the recurrence of anti-semitism in Poland. This decision by the Poles represents a reversal of a policy which had previously followed the Soviet line in discouraging emigration generally. The immigrants from Hungary are refugees who fled the country during and after the bloody events of 1956. Those from Egypt have been subjected to pressure from the Egyptian Government since the Israel invasion of October 29, 1956. We surmise that the immigration from Yemen will be primarily in the nature of a clean-up operation, as the bulk of the Jewish community of Yemen was transported to Israel in 1948. There is continuing pressure from North African Jews to go to Israel. The North African Jewish communities are, on the whole, in difficult economic straits, and doubtful of their future as French influence declines in their countries. Israel is less enthusiastic about receiving North [Page 413] African Jews than those from other parts of the world, because of their lack of skills and resources. American Zionist leaders have frankly told us that Eastern European Jews come much higher on the priority list.

Internal United States policy statements have expressed the United States objective of convincing Israel leaders that continued emphasis on large-scale immigration increases area tensions. Arab leaders are fond of claiming that further immigration into Israel’s small territory can only lead to an explosion and further Israel territorial expansion. Mr. Henry A. Byroade, speaking as Assistant Secretary of State for NEA in Philadelphia in May 1954, expressed publicly the view that Israel should de-emphasize immigration in the interest of area peace and stability. The official Israel reaction to such suggestions on the part of the United States has been quite violent. It has been stated that immigration is a matter completely within Israel’s sovereignty and that one of the primary aspects of Israel’s mission on earth is the “ingathering of the exiles.” It is doubtful that Israel will ever alter its official position on this question. Israel has, however, quietly but effectively controlled immigration in the past, by limiting the funds to purchase passage for immigrants. The present ruling class in Israel comes almost entirely from Eastern European stock and can be expected to exert every effort to encourage and absorb immigrants from behind the Iron Curtain.

It is believed that United States policies of failing to favor large-scale immigration into Israel have become sufficiently known to the Israelis. United States failure to increase its economic aid to Israel on the basis of increased immigration has probably been the most effective way of making our point with the Israelis.


That we say nothing further to the Israelis on the subject of increased immigration unless they raise the matter with us in an attempt to justify increased United States Government aid to Israel, in which case we could reiterate our position on this.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 884A.18/3–1357. Secret. Drafted by Bergus on March 12 and cleared by Henderson.
  2. Not printed. In this memorandum, Phleger reminded Herter that during his talk with Eban on March 9, Herter had not commented when Eban broached the subject of increased immigration. Phleger then advised Herter: “It may be that at some future date Israel will take the position that it informed the United States fully of its plans with respect to refugees and that no criticisms or comment was made thereon.”
  3. Herter initialed his approval on the source text.