From my perspective as a social worker and as a journalist, it is important to
set the record straight as to why Israel is about to deport thousands of migrant
workers who have flooded the Jewish state of late.
Israel’s Jewish and
Arab workers now compete with a migrant worker population from African countries
who are enticed by contractors to work in quasi-slave-like conditions, below
minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits, Migrant workers are easy prey
for easy profits.
And as of Independence Day, the migrant worker
population reached 163,615 people, a figure which includes the children of the
Across the globe, civil liberties organizations and
their allies in the media fight to put an end to the phenomenon of the
exploitation of migrant workers who are paid dirt wages with no
Indeed, a CBS documentary that aired when I was a boy, 50 years
ago, Harvest of Shame, did wonders to shake the conscience of people throughout
the United States to the horrific working conditions for migrant workers in
Yet in Israel today, civil liberties organizations
and their allies in the media fight for migrant workers to remain in horrific
conditions in Israel. The only worry of Israel’s civil liberties organizations
is that the migrant workers should not be deported back to their home
For workers to live in quasi-slave like conditions seems
highly inappropriate to the spirit of social justice in Israel.
Israel’s civil liberties organizations and their allies in the media have also
overlooked is that the contractors who exploit the migrants have also hurt
working people in Israel who would like to make an honest living. When my
younger son finished his army service three years ago, he was ready to take any
job, so long as he would earn something, before he decided where he would go for
He went from workplace to workplace, shocked that the
wages offered were below the minimum wage, with no social or medical
What he heard from contractor after contractor was that they
have “adjusted” their pay scale to “accommodate” cheap migrant workers, who can
live below the minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits.
contractor offered my son NIS 17 an hour, 10 hours a day, 25 percent below
minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits as required by law.
migrant took the job instead.
When our family vacationed for a few days
in Eilat, we were surprised to hear that more than 8,000 migrant workers now
dominate the city’s hotels, throwing Israeli Jews and Arabs out of
On one evening, a taxi driver took us to see a makeshift village
for the migrant workers that was acquired by the their contractors, where
hundreds of migrant workers and their families lived in crowded
While we were there, we witnessed migrant workers listening
to a course on Israeli civics.
An American Jewish group had hired social
workers to teach the migrants how to become Israeli citizens.
And if the
migrant population continues to expand – and there is every reason that we can
expect that it will grow – the workers might form a political party which will
eventually assume ascendancy in Eilat, whose total population is only
This has geopolitical implications, since the Egyptian
parliament, five years ago, declared that Eilat is an Egyptian city which must
be returned to Egypt. A Sudanese mayor may be amenable to such a
What about law enforcement in the city? Why does the Israeli
government not simply dispatch ship to its southern port city and transport the
migrants back to their nations of origin? Workers in the mayor’s office said
that the Justice Ministry had decided not to enforce the law in Eilat, and that
they were “keeping hands off” the situation of the migrant workers in the
Our news agency dispatched a letter to the minister of justice
The office of the minister responded that he received the
letter, with no response to the question about the lack of law enforcement over
migrant workers in Eilat.
There you have it.
The government has
simply ignored its own laws and allowed thousands of illegal migrant workers to
establish a foothold in Israel.
Contractors using the migrant workers
played it smart, hiring PR firms to issue daily releases to the media which
charge that if the government would enforce the law, this would constitute an
act of racism and discrimination.
These contractors also donated to the
civil liberties groups that have been advocating for the cheap migrant workers
to remain in Israel, allowing migrant with no legal status in Israel to unfairly
compete with Jewish and Arab Israelis in the labor market, Well-connected
Israeli contractors wielded tremendous influence on the government to not
enforce the law – until now...
And when the law is not being enforced,
people take the law into their own hands. Hence, the violence of late against
the migrant workers.
The writer is director of the Israel Resource News