After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was for, against, and then for deporting African migrants again this week, coalition chairman David Amsalem said on Wednesday that Netanyahu could go back to the agreement he announced this week to absorb half of them.
“Apparently what happened is that the prime minister saw and heard ministers and many people with a different view, and said, ‘Let’s put it on hold, let’s have a deeper discussion, and see what we’ll do.’ After the holiday, the prime minister will call in the cabinet and hold discussions,” Amsalem told Kan Bet radio, referring to Passover, which ends this weekend.
Unlike many in the Likud, Amsalem, who used to lead the Knesset Interior Committee, which deals with the issue of African migrants, said: “I’ve been dealing with this matter for three years. In my eyes, the decision was a balanced one.”
On Monday, Netanyahu announced that Israel reached an agreement with the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees that nearly half of the African migrants in Israel would be absorbed in Western countries, and the other half would receive legal status in Israel. In addition, the government would provide those who remain employment training and spread them around the country, rather than in south Tel Aviv, where most of the migrants live.
Hours later, following sharp criticism from within the Likud and from leaders of other parties in the coalition, Netanyahu said he was suspending the plan pending further consultations.
On Tuesday morning, he met with representatives of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, and soon thereafter said the plan was canceled.
Amsalem said Netanyahu came to the agreement with the UNHCR for lack of good alternatives.
“The prime minister had to choose between bad and worse.
The decision was good, because the situation we were in” – after the High Court of Justice struck down the government decision to deport migrants to Rwanda – “was much worse, and Netanyahu said, ‘Let’s move forward.’ “The enemy of good is the very good. Sometimes, when you need to make forward, you make an interim decision,” Amsalem continued. “Any proposal is worthy as long as it’s legal, and that refugees stay in Israel, which is a small group, and economic migrants don’t stay here.”
“If [Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali] Bennett has a better idea, he should tell us,” Amsalem said, expressing pessimism about the chances of passing a law that would circumvent the High Court ruling.
AMSALEM BLAMED the High Court for the government’s problems with the issue.
“The country wanted to put them [migrants] in the Holot holding facility for three years, so they would decide to leave on their own, but the High Court canceled it... We can’t deport them, the High Court won’t allow it,” he said.
“Because of the High Court, we almost reached a situation in which the state had to pay them National Insurance and unemployment benefits.”
According to Amsalem, Netanyahu has been working very hard on this issue for six years: “On almost every trip, to Africa and other international meetings, he spoke with heads of state so they would accept work migrants – and not for free.
“There was one country [Rwanda] willing to do it under the radar. Left-wing NGOs like the New Israel Fund and others... funded by Europe...
worked against it,” the coalition chairman said, echoing the prime minister’s accusations.
“The situation today is that we’re stuck. There are 40,000 economic migrants here, the court won’t let us deport them, and all the left-wing NGOs are protesting. I didn’t see them protesting when Jews were expelled from Gush Katif [in the Gaza Strip in 2005]. When it’s Jews, it’s one standard, and when it’s Arabs or economic migrants, it’s another standard,” Amsalem lamented.
As for Netanyahu’s call to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry on the New Israel Fund’s supposed intervention in the matter, which the organization denies, Amsalem said the commission would be toothless.
“I say in advance: It has the same status of any committee in the Knesset... Bottom line, its result would be to bring the subject to public discussion.
That’s its job. But we’re already talking about it,” Amsalem pointed out.
New Israel Fund director-general Miki Gitzin told Kan Bet on Thursday morning that Netanyahu’s accusations were “total nonsense with no grip on reality.”
Gitzin said the New Israel Fund invested $200,000 in the campaign against deportation, most of which went to demonstrations, and all of which was used in Israel.
In October, Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon said the legislature does not have the authority to open a commission of inquiry into left-wing NGOs.
Yinon said investigating civil-society organizations for ideological reasons “violates basic governmental principles.
Parliamentary commissions of inquiry are not the place for ideological clarifications, and they are meant to oversee the government, not civil society.”
In 2011, Netanyahu came out against the Knesset investigating left-wing NGOs or anything at all. When the matter was proposed, he commented: “I do not propose parliamentary commissions of inquiry...
We don’t need investigations in the Knesset.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>