Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and his cabinet colleague Interior Minister
Eli Yishai went toe-to-toe over the migrant deportation issue Monday, with
Liberman hinting that Yishai was damaging Israel’s image for narrow political
reasons, and Yishai responding that the Foreign Ministry was not doing its
Liberman – in an apparent reference to Yishai – said at a Yisrael
Beytenu faction meeting that overheated rhetoric over the issue was damaging his
ministry’s efforts to find solutions for the 50,000 Eritrean and Sudanese
migrants who cannot be deported – as well as harming Israel’s image in the
Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan, and the UN has
declared that migrants from Eritrea cannot be deported because their lives would
be in danger.
“There are many people who are sacrificing Israel’s
interests for their own narrow electoral party interest,” he said in a clear
swipe at Yishai, though he did not mention him by name. “I don’t remember for a
long time the degree of criticism coming from Israel’s friends, first and
foremost in the US, as has been the case over this story.”
slammed what he referred to as a “media festival” that accompanied the arrests
of South Sudanese migrants and their deportation Sunday night.
diplomatic officials said the pictures of the migrants being arrested over the
last few weeks, and the triumphant manner in which Yishai went to the airport
Sunday to oversee the deportation, were meant to shore up his position among
Shas voters prior to the scheduled release this week of the State Comptroller’s
Report on the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire – which is expected to be very
critical of the interior minister.
The arrests and deportation could have
been done with much less fanfare, one official said.
whether Israel wanted to solve the migrant problem, or just talk about it. His
ministry, he said, was trying to resolve the issue through quiet contact with
other countries, but the harsh political rhetoric over the last few weeks has
erased the achievements and created a situation in which it will be impossible
to deport 90 percent of the migrants.
According to Liberman, of the
65,000 migrants, 35,000 are from Eritrea and 15,000 from Sudan, and the display
surrounding the deportation of a few hundred South Sudanese has erased efforts
to find an acceptable solution for the entire problem.
that Israel has been in negotiations with other African countries that have
nationals here illegally, such as Ghana and Nigeria, looking for ways to
repatriate them, and that these talks were harmed by the recent events. “People
see the pictures, and hear the rhetoric, and say they don’t want to cooperate
with us,” one official said.
Diplomatic officials said that Jewish
organizational leaders in the US and administration officials have expressed a
great deal of criticism about Israel’s handling of the issue.
said that since the beginning of the campaign to deport the South Sudanese on
June 10, 120 migrants have been deported, while another 504 have entered the
country, including 70 migrants Monday morning.
“I recommend to all those
who really want to solve the problem to stop talking,” he said. “The less people
talk, the better are the chances to solve the problem.”
meanwhile, fired back at Liberman, saying there are those who “are busy with
commentary, and there are those who are busy with actions. The Foreign Ministry
should find a country to send the Eritreans to, instead of fighting for honor.”
Yishai said he was waiting for a response from the Foreign Ministry about
whether the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan could be sent home, or whether a
third country can be found to take them.
“There has been no effort at all
from the Foreign Ministry to find a solution for the migrants,” he said. “I hope
the Foreign Ministry will help, which it hasn’t until now. Of course the world
will clap for us if we don’t expel the migrants and we allow more to come in,
but I will gladly give up on that applause.”
Diplomatic officials said it
was completely unrealistic to believe that any third country would agree to take
in the migrants.
Yishai denied this deportation campaign had anything to
do with the comptroller’s report on the Carmel fire. He argued that Sunday’s
pictures of the deportations could be used by the Foreign Ministry to show “how
humane Israel is being to the migrants and improve our public
What really matters, he said, “is not what the world will
say, but what we do for the citizens of Israel.”