The elections for the Constituent Assembly


David Ben-Gurion casting his vote for the Constituent Assembly (NKH\425246)On January 25th 1949, the first elections for the Constituent Assembly (Ha’asefa Hamechonenet) were held. The Israeli Declaration of Independence from May 1948 determined that until permanent government institutions were established, a provisional government would be established, which would be called the Provisional State Council. The members of the Provisional State Council were chosen from the Jewish Agency and from the Jewish National Council (the Vaad HaLeumi) – not in a general election. General elections were supposed to take place until October 1st 1948, but the War of Independence did not allow it. After the elections were postponed twice, and the southern front became stable towards the end of January 1949, elections could finally be conducted. 
The first elections of the State of Israel needed special organization. On November 1948 a census of Israeli residents took place, in order to comprise a voters list. In order to compile the list the residents were put under curfew for 7 hours while the census-takers went from house to house. According to the census the number of people entitled to vote was about half a million. The main parties that participated in the elections were Mapai, led by David Ben-Gurion, who had ruled the Yishuv institutions since their founding, and Mapam led by Ya’akov Hazan and Meir Ya’ari. The atmosphere during the elections was festive, and the voting percentage was high – about 87%, a rate that sounds fantastical today. The main issue was, of course, security: should Israel continue fighting or should it reach an agreement with its neighboring countries. Mapai, who sought to reach an agreement won: it received 46 seats while Mapam received only 20 seats.
The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting in February 14th (which happened to be Tu Bishvat) at the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. There was great excitement in Jerusalem in anticipation of this meeting: the streets were decorated and many people gathered outside the Jewish Agency building. The Provisional State Council transferred its powers to the Constituent Assembly. An original invitation and admission ticket to this meeting are kept at the Central Zionist Archives and presented in the gallery below.
The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly (PHKH\1287111)In order that members of the Constituent Assembly could correctly assess the public stance on various issues, the secretariat of the Provisional Council assembled a collection of newspapers articles from the years 1947-1948. These articles, stored at the CZA, present various issues regarding the future image of the new state: what would be the name of the new state – The State of Israel (like the United States) or the Land of the Hebrews; what should be the currency – the English pound or the American dollar; what kind of regime should there be in Israel; what should be the basis for Israeli law – Jewish or general law; what should be the relationship between religion and state; how would military service be implemented, etc.
One of the main tasks of the Constituent Assembly was to write a constitution, but the members of the Assembly avoided doing so. They decided to enact the constitution gradually – an assignment that is not completed even today. The Constituent Assembly decided to change its name to the Knesset. And so it became the First Knesset.