Analysis: Can this interior minister succeed where his predecessors failed?

May 9, 2006 22:53
2 minute read.

The saga of children of foreign workers has dragged on for years. These are children who speak Hebrew, call Israel home and want to serve in the IDF, but lack any legal status and, in theory, face deportation. Successive interior ministers have pledged to resolve their plight to little avail. But just two days into his term, the newest man in the job, Roni Bar-On, might actually do just that. Unlike his predecessors, he has a good shot at succeeding because the political and practical stars have finally aligned. Labor's Ophir Paz-Pines, who served before Bar-On, was able to arrange permanent residency for children who met a stringent set of criteria: They were older than 10, were born here, were Israeli culturally and linguistically and had parents who entered the country legally. That left hundreds more facing uncertain fates. Paz-Pines acknowledged that he would have liked to have imposed fewer restrictions, but was restrained by political realities. His predecessor, Avraham Poraz of Shinui, had failed miserably in his attempt to offer permanent residency only to those over 10 who had lived here a minimum of five years. Several key members of the Likud torpedoed the effort, mostly the same ministers Paz-Pines needed to win over. Now Bar-On is suggesting guidelines even looser than Poraz's: that status be given to children who are in first grade or higher who have lived here for at least five years. That puts him precisely in the same camp as foreign worker activists who have been pleading for such an arrangement for years. And for once, it's likely to happen. Most importantly, Bar-On is a part of Kadima's inner circle. He represents the party which is in charge of the government, rather than mere coalition partners like Labor and Shinui. And he has an apparent ally in this fight - none other than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. During Olmert's brief tenure at the top, he has highlighted the situation of foreign workers several times, despite their being a small constituency with no voting rights. Most recently, at Bar-On's installation ceremony on Sunday, Olmert stressed the issue's importance. And perhaps more tellingly, when he presented the new government to the Knesset on Thursday, he touched on the matter during a review of state priorities. "The State of Israel will lose its moral standing if it evades its responsibility toward the weaker populations - the elderly, the pensioners, the Holocaust survivors, the disabled, the ailing, the children at risk, battered women and those targeted for illegal trade - all those needing protection and assistance, including the children of foreign workers who grow up among us and love our country, and wish to be part of it," he declared. Not only the political but the practical context of the situation has changed since Poraz launched his efforts. When he promulgated his guidelines, many ministers and MKs expressed concern that thousands of foreign children and their families would gain legal status. But now, as foreign worker advocates have long maintained, it has been made clear that the number of those eligible is in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Though Paz-Pines estimated that 2,000 children would receive status under his plan, only about 40 have been granted status so far. Not all the applications have been reviewed, but only 460 applied. Many of those would have been rejected under the Paz-Pines guidelines, and now they should all be approved. Foreign workers organizations don't expect many others to apply, keeping the numbers under the 2,000 cap. That, of course, is assuming that Bar-On does succeed where others have failed.

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