Sa'ar remains defiant: Migrant holding facility won't close, it'll expand

Attorney-General's office fights calls by right-wing MKs, including Sa'ar, to put checks on judiciary after ruling on migrants.

October 6, 2014 11:47
detention center

African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Any new policy toward illegal migrants must include jail time, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Monday, calling to limit the High Court’s ability to overturn laws.

“Anyone who enters Israel illegally has to be jailed. How can we deal with infiltration without that tool?” Sa’ar said.

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“We need a deterrent amount of jail time for infiltrators….Without that, we won’t be able to control our borders.”

Sa’ar spoke at a Knesset Interior Committee meeting working toward a new law dealing with migration, two weeks after the High Court canceled government policy for the second time in a year.

The court ruled the Holot open detention center must be closed within 90 days, taking effect December 22, and declared detaining newly arrived migrants in the closed Saharonim holding facility for one year is unconstitutional.

“We cannot give up on Holot.

Without Holot we cannot do the job. Holot needs to be expanded, not closed so that migrants are sent to Tel Aviv and Eilat,” he said.

Sa’ar announced his resignation last month, but Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) said she “won’t let him go” without drafting a new migration policy.

“Within 90 days we will have a new immigration policy like every other self-respecting country,” she said. “Every country has the right to guard its borders, including Israel.”

The interior minister reassured the committee that the topic is of utmost importance to him, promising to shrink the phenomenon to dimensions with which the government is able to handle.

“We need to see the big picture,” he said. “Does Israel want to keep its character as a Jewish and democratic state? Does it want to protect its borders? Then we need to be clear on this matter.

“The government is responsible for Israel’s future facing a very difficult phenomenon.

Other Western states didn’t know how to deal with it, and their character changed. We cannot give up. As long as I have this job, until the last minute, I will act with the responsibility I have,” he said.

According to Sa’ar, the Supreme Court put Israel’s values second on its scale of priorities, which he called unacceptable.

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 nonkosher meat to be imported into Israel.

Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber took issue with Sa’ar’s statements, saying “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,” she said.

Still, Zilber promised to make every effort so the court accepts the state’s position on the next immigration policy.

“The third law can be balanced and the court will accept it and not need to use its doomsday weapon,” Zilber stated.

According to Zilber, the court’s canceling bills is “the ping-pong of the authorities, which is part of the legitimate constitutional process.”

Sa’ar argued against Zilber, saying “she expressed hope the result will be different, but I think we can’t rely on hope.

Facts are being created on the ground. As time passes, the infiltrators’ roots in Israel are growing deeper.

“Throughout my career I defended the judiciary. It’s important to protect the court, but it’s more important to protect the country. This is the future of the country and its character – that is most important,” he added.

Regev also took issue with the court, saying the government’s policy was proportional and was discussed in dozens of Knesset meetings meant to balance it.

“The High Court left the government of Israel without tools to deal with the problem. It sent a message to thousands of Africans to pass through the border fence and stay here,” she said.

Regev expressed shock at reading an opinion by Justice Uzi Vogelman saying that by keeping the illegal migrants in Holot, they were being prevented from finding a spouse outside of the detention facility.

“The High Court is now a matchmaker.

If you want a girlfriend, go to Justice Vogelman, who is dealing with singles,” Regev said. “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.”

MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) said the High Court ruling showed it is blind.

“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,” she said. “The law needs to remain as is, and we will support the interior minister. He doesn’t need to back down first.”

Shaked called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a stand against illegal immigration, as well.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) pointed out that Shaked has opposed judicial activism for a long time and proposed bills to allow the Knesset to re-pass bills canceled by the High Court in the past.

Zandberg said Shaked is using the migrants issue to promote her existing agenda.

Part of the meeting focused on whether the Right or the Left is more concerned with the good of Israeli residents of southern Tel Aviv, where tens of thousands of African migrants reside.

Ovad Hugi, a resident of the area, 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 said.

MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) pointed to the difficulties of life in southern 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 though 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 [about migrants], but putting them all in jail won’t solve your problems.”

Zandberg called for a “national emergency plan” to help residents of southern Tel Aviv, whose problems are caused by “decades of neglect in the areas of infrastructure, education and welfare.

“They are a weak population, and when a weaker population [of migrants] joins them, their problems grow exponentially,” she stated.

Still, Zandberg accused the Right of having “great cynicism and audacity to talk about problems that existed over decades” and blame them on migrants.

“Sa’ar and Regev are trying to divide and conquer and make the residents of southern Tel Aviv fight the asylum-seekers, but the time has come to wake up and understand that the government is to blame for the situation, since it doesn’t have a humane immigration policy,” MK Michal Roisin (Meretz) said.

According to Roisin, the solution is to allow the migrants to work and spread them around Israel.

Orly, a former Meretz member from southern Tel Aviv, scoffed at Roisin and Zandberg, saying that they aren’t doing anything to help her and her neighbors.

Sa’ar called Meretz the “parliamentary lobby to leave the migrants in Israel” and denied that they are refugees, saying only a tiny minority applied for refugee status.

“You knowingly use false terminology and call them asylum-seekers,” he said to the Meretz MKs.

“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.”

Sa’ar said every request for refugee status is examined and that Israel gives migrants more time than most other Western countries to apply.

Shaked pointed out that most of the African migrants are men aged 20-40, while refugees from Syria are male and female of all ages, saying that shows the difference between economic migrants and real refugees.

Similarly, Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy said that many of the migrants in his town openly admit that they are in Israel for jobs.

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