The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, headed by MK Miri Regev (Likud), held a stormy debate Monday on the High Court`s decision to strike down the state`s policy of holding some illegal migrants in closed detention for one year and others in indefinite open detention.
Two weeks ago the court ruled that the Holot open detention center must be closed within 90 days, meaning by December 22, and declared detaining newly arrived migrants in the closed Saharonim holding facility for one year unconstitutional.
The Internal Affairs Committee met to discuss a new law dealing with migration.
The meeting, which was attended by Internal Affairs Minister Gideon Sa`ar, was repeatedly interrupted by residents of south Tel Aviv, who called out ”the court has abandoned us” and ”ISIS is already here, in south Tel Aviv.”
Regev attacked the court`s decision, saying ”every country has a right to guard its borders. The High Court`s decision is disproportional and left the government without the tools needed to deal with the problem. It sent a message inviting all [potential] infiltrators to come to Israel and find work.”
Regev expressed shock at reading that Justice Uzi Fogelman asked how an illegal migrant will meet a girlfriend in Holot.
”The High Court is now a matchmaker. If you want a girlfriend, go to Justice Fogelman, who is dealing with singles,” Regev quipped. ”We will have a new law by December 22, as far as I`m concerned, the committee will only work on that, and there can be matchmakers in the holding facility if that will make the High Court happy.”
She stressed that the new law will also continue to motivate illegal migrants to leave Israel voluntarily. ”These are work migrants, not refugees,” Regev said.
Minister Sa`ar said the government`s policy showed the illegal migrants that the state is determined to curb infiltration. ”This is what brought about the great exodus,” he said. ”The trend was blocked on April 1. The numbers (of departing illegal migrants) dropped when the High Court was discussing the matter. There were also those who whispered [to the migrants] that they should stay because the High Court was planning to cancel [the infiltration law].
”The High Court`s ruling does not allow the state to deal with the infiltration issue,” Sa`ar told the meeting. ”It cannot be accepted. It is fundamentally wrong and creates an upside-down normative ladder in which the infiltrators are at the top and the citizens of Israel are at the bottom,” he said, adding that any new policy toward illegal migrants must include jail time: ”We need a deterring amount of jail time for infiltrators…Without that, we won`t be able to control our borders.”
”Another red line is the Holot facility. We cannot give up on Holot. Without Holot we will not be able to prevent the work. Holot needs to be expanded, not closed,” the minister argued.
Sa`ar quoted Supreme Court President Asher Grunis in the court`s minority opinion, which called canceling a law an ”unconventional weapon” and stated ”the court cannot be turned into a legislator.”
As such, he said, there must be an article added to Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty allowing the Knesset to re-pass bills that were canceled by the High Court. He pointed out that former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin took similar action to not allow non-kosher meat be imported into Israel.
”The Knesset has the last word, and the government bears the responsibility for the state`s character,” he said. ”We must not give up. There are differences of opinion with the Attorney General`s Office on this issue, and the government will have to decide.”
Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber took issue with Sa`ar`s statements, saying that ”it`s nice when the High Court accepts the state`s position, but the court is not the government`s rubber stamp.”
”The Attorney General`s Office will not lend a hand to shrinking the High Court`s power and adding an `overriding article`,” she said, adding that it was the Knesset which gave the court the authority to annul laws.
”The third law can be balanced and the court will accept it and not need to use its doomsday weapon,” Zilber stated.
MK Ayelet Shaked of HaBayit HaYehudi said the majority opinion of the court suffers from ”fundamental blindness and internal contradictions.” Annulling the current version of the infiltrator law violates the separation of powers principle and hurts democracy, Shaked said, ”so there is no choice but to pass an article to work around the High Court [and re-pass canceled bills]. The court cannot become a legislator. The law needs to remain as-is and we will support the Internal Affairs Minister. He doesn`t need to back down first.”
MK Shaked called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be ”brave” and approve the article.
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy said illegal migrants have openly admitted to him that they came to Israel to seek work. ”I do not have a problem with any infiltrator personally, but the matters of my city [are more important], and the residents are fleeing,” he said.
Ovad Hugi, a resident of south Tel Aviv made an impassioned speech about the dangerous conditions in his neighborhood and then turned to the left-wing MKs and told them the reason he and his friends vote for the Right is that the Left wants the migrants to stay in Israel.
”If you want infiltrators in Israel, invite them to your house, not mine,” he shouted.
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) spoke about the difficulties of life in south Tel Aviv: ”There is a lack of infrastructure and personal security…the government doesn`t give you public housing and lets airplanes fly over your homes as if you don`t need to sleep. All of this sent you to the extreme Right. They tell you all of your problems will be solved by getting rid of a few thousand migrants.
”What this government did is distract you from your real, difficult problems that we [the Left] want to solve,” she said. ”We care about you more than [migrants] but putting them all in jail won`t solve your problems.”
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who heads the Committee on Foreign Workers, scolded Regev. ”You are creating hatred and incitement. What have you done for [the residents of south Tel Aviv]? What budgets did you give to south Tel Aviv? The government failed big time by not providing solutions and budgets for south Tel Aviv,” she said.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) called for an ”emergency plan” to help the residents of south Tel Aviv and said ”a lot of cynicism is required to talk about the neglect and then take away money for housing and cancel the project to rehabilitate neighborhoods.”
”Where is the national plan for south Tel Aviv in the 2015 state budget? This is our job in the Knesset,” she added. According to Zandberg, the solution is to allow the migrants to work and spread them around Israel.
Labor MK Nachman Shai said he is opposed to keeping illegal migrants in Israel and said ”worthy ways must be found in order to open the border for them in one direction – out.” However, he said ”this must be done according to the laws of the state, and currently it not being done in accordance with the laws. We warned that the [infiltrator law] will not stand another test of the High Court. The High Court must be protected.”
Minister Sa`ar addressed the dispute with the Justice Ministry, saying ”it is important to preserve the court, but also the country. What matters here is the character of the state.”
The minister berated the opposition members, calling them the ”parliamentary lobby of the infiltrators.”
Sa`ar said less than 10 percent of illegal migrants have applied for refugee status. ”You [opposition members] knowingly use false terminology and call them refuge-seekers,” he said to the MKs from the opposition. ”This is economic migration. The minority opinion in the High Court pointed out that the fact that many left of their own will is proof that they aren`t refugees.”
Minister Sa`ar said that every request for refugee status is examined and that Israel gives migrants more time than most other Western countries to apply. ”But this does not stop you from slandering Israel, just like during the war against Hamas,” he said.
In response, MK Rozin said the minister was ”lying to the public.”
MK Regev concluded the meeting by saying ”I believe we will pass a law regarding the `overriding article` and bring about a proportional and constitutional solution. Don`t lose hope.”