Israeli leaders voice mixed reactions to U.N. migrant plan

Meretz: The word ‘infiltrators’ has left the lexicon.

April 2, 2018 16:00
4 minute read.
African migrants take part in a protest against Israel's detention policy toward them

African migrants take part in a protest against Israel's detention policy toward them. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced sharp criticism from the Right on Monday, including within his own party, after announcing the government canceled its planned deportation of African migrants in Israel, allowing half to remain in Israel with the other half to be absorbed into Western countries.

Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said, “Granting legal status to 16,000 infiltrators will turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators and is a surrender to the false campaign spread in the media in recent months.”

“The original outline was moral and just, and we must follow it alone. Refugees from dangerous places will be absorbed in Israel, work migrants will be sent back. In the new plan, work migrants who didn’t even apply to be refugees will be absorbed,” he said.

“By signing this agreement, we are sending a dangerous message to the whole world: Whoever succeeds in infiltrating Israel illegally will get a prize of legal residence here or a Western country.”

Bennett also called on the cabinet to hold a vote on the matter.
Israel's migrant deportation plays on Jewish 'moral compass' February 6, 2018 (Reuters)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said she had nothing to do with the new agreement and did not know about it, only that there had been negotiations with the UN Refugee Agency.

“I expect whoever worked on the outline will take responsibility. Israel does not need to accept infiltrators who entered illegally. The agreement and all of its details should be put to a discussion and vote in the cabinet,” she stated.

Former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, thought to be a potential Likud leader, voiced his sharpest criticism of Netanyahu in a long time, writing on Twitter: “The agreement to leave most of the infiltrators in Israel is a severe mistake. It broadcasts weakness, giving up on sovereignty, and encourages illegal immigration to Israel.”

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, also of Likud, said she is concerned about the plan’s outline, which she said give up on important principles in immigration policy.

“As is known, these are not refugees, but people who illegally infiltrated. Therefore, negotiations with the UN High Commission for Refugees is not appropriate in my opinion,” she stated.

“The end result by which tens of thousands of infiltrators will stay in Israel is very worrying when it comes the identity of our country and its social fabric.

“They won’t live in [Shikun] Lamed, Ramat Aviv or Kfar Shmaryahu,” Regev added, referring to wealthy areas, “but in the social and geographic periphery of Israel and bring great harm, as is happening today in south Tel Aviv.”

The political center and Left celebrated this as a victory, while many on the Right criticized Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Deri on Monday.

ZIONIST UNION MK Miki Rosenthal said the message from the change in plans is the opposite: “To all the cynics and those who quickly despaired: Here’s another civic struggle that succeeded, we prevented the deportation of refugees. The lesson is, not every struggle succeeds. Some end in victory and some fail, but citizens should organize and fight for justice.”

Meretz released a statement saying, “The word ‘infiltrators’ has left the lexicon. The government has finally understood the need to absorb refugees.

The international refugee crisis is real and serious, and the propagandists who tried to make it seem differently should apologize today...Meretz led the struggle against the deportation with great efforts.”

In a dig at the Zionist Union, whose leader Avi Gabbay discouraged MKs from speaking out against deporting migrants, the Meretz statement added: “Today it was proven that justice is stronger than even the populism of ministers and the opposition’s cold shoulder.”

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said he was “happy for the African refugees and the residents of south Tel Aviv, and I praise those who fought with them, shoulder to shoulder. We proved that in a moment those who were called a cancer in our body” – a turn of phrase by Culture Minister Miri Regev, for which she apologized – “can turn into immigrants with rights.”

Odeh connected the African refuge- seekers to Palestinians, adding: “Now, with the same determination and solidarity between weakened groups, we can defeat the occupation.”

Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah said the outline is important, but came too late, after “years of delays, avoidance and a lot of harmful and poisonous language.”

“The refugees that will be absorbed in Israel must be spread throughout the country and in the way Israel knows how to absorb people. The main emphasis now must be the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods. We need to immediately implement an emergency rehabilitation plan to give back the residents the standard of living that they deserve,” he stated.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praised the outline by saying, “For years we demanded that the government take steps to ease the problem that was created in the past as it sent tens of thousands of foreigners to Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Residents of the poorer neighborhoods had enough of unfulfilled promises.”

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