For Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the government’s most vocal opponent of the
African migrant community, the timing couldn’t have been better. A visit to the
site of the future detention center for African migrants had been planned for
weeks his aide said, when on Tuesday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced
that national elections would be held as early as January 15.
earlier in the week as a tour of the new detention facility, on the ground it
appeared a hastily arranged photo-op. Yishai stood on a hilltop, giving a stump
speech about how Shas will make sure that sweeping deportations of African
migrants, who number more than 60,000, will be a prerequisite for Shas to join
or stay in the next governing coalition.
As a largely irate crowd of
reporters shoved each other and swarmed Yishai, the interior minister received a
breakneck briefing from Defense Ministry general manager Bezalel Tryber on the
construction of the center which will eventually house several thousand migrants
in trailer houses. The center stands to be completed by the end of the
year. Tryber talked about the sewage and sanitation and the humane conditions of
the future facility, as well as the ministry’s desire to plant trees and build
cultural and entertainment centers for the detainees – who can expect to be
jailed for an extended period of time that remains unclear.
All the while
the reporters peppered the minister with questions that appeared unsympathetic
at best. Yishai stuck to his message of near-universal imprisonment and
deportation, saying that almost all of the migrants come to Israel to work and
are not asylum seekers, while at the same time admitting that very few have had
their asylum requests examined. He vowed that Israel must build more
detention facilities, but gave no answer for what the facility will be used for
if and when the African migrants are all deported or if there will be money for
future facilities. Yishai said Eritreans and north Sudanese are not
refugees and will be encouraged to go back home. He also proposed some be sent
to a third country, possibly indicating that he understands the difficulties of
returning them home, where they could face persecution, but without an idea of
where they can go or who would be willing to take them.
An official close
to Yishai denied Wednesday that the minister has used the migrant issue as a
platform to attract traditional Likud voters in south Tel Aviv and elsewhere,
saying that Yishai is the one politician who has been at the forefront of the
issue from the beginning, and that his concern for Israel’s demographic future
supercedes politics. He also dismissed fears that former Shas party
leader Aryeh Deri will return to politics and unseat Yishai as party list leader
as “just spin.” The official did say, however, that Yishai’s image as a
strong opponent of the African migrant community will not hurt his chances of
bringing more seats to Shas in the coming election.
Long before Likud MK
Miri Regev called them “a cancer in the body of our nation,” Yishai had vowed
repeatedly to rid Israel of the “infiltrators” menace. With Yishai facing
a threat from within his own party, he can be expected to continue to issue an
antimigrant statement on a weekly basis, make more photo-ops in the Negev and
south Tel Aviv and couch his discussion, of one of Israel’s most complicated
social challenges in recent years. in terms of ominous forecasts of Israel’s
future and vows to deport at any cost.
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