Labor leader Avi Gabbay speaks at a faction meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay continued to shift his party to the Right on Monday when he pushed his faction to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to expel migrant workers.
Gabbay said recently that there would be no need to evacuate settlements in a peace deal, that he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) list, that he was not sure if there was a partner on the Palestinian side, that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish,” and that “the whole Land of Israel is ours, because it was promised to our patriarch Abraham by God.”
Such statements are intended to win the Zionist Union votes from Center-Right, religiously traditional Israelis who voted for Likud and Shas in past elections. The Zionist Union faction voted 12 to 11 to back the government’s plan after Gabbay told the MKs that opposing the plan would turn away the new sectors he has been wooing.
“This is not an issue of Right or Left,” Gabbay told the faction behind closed doors. “We would pay a price for arguing with the public.”
In the stormy meeting, MK Shelly Yacimovich told Gabbay that he was going against the party’s most fundamental values and MK Tzipi Livni that there was no reason to change the faction’s stand on the matter after it opposed similar initiatives in the past. Former Labor leader Isaac Herzog backed Gabbay.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Arye Deri unanimously passed a proposal in Sunday’s cabinet meeting to close Holot, an “open” detention center where several thousand migrants have been sent in a bid to convince them to self-deport.
According to the plan, within three months, the migrant workers living there would have to choose between “voluntarily” deportation to a third country or sent to a regular prison indefinitely.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that he had obtained an international agreement that allows Israel to “deport the 40,000 remaining infiltrators against their will.”
Channel 10 reported that the government had reached a deal with Rwanda in which the African country would take African migrants from Israel by offering it $5,000 for each migrant it accepts, even if they were coerced to go there.
The Knesset plenum voted 53 to 10 to advance the bill in its first reading on Monday evening. It will now be sent to the Knesset Interior Committee for further legislating.
Zionist Union MKs were noticeably absent from the vote, despite the faction decision to support the bill. The absence of the MKs was interpreted as a rebellion against Gabbay.
During the debate that took place ahead of the vote, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg shouted at Zionist Union MKs: “What has become of you? Are you the Zionist Union or the Expelling Union? Have you gone mad? In your tactics for wooing votes, you’ve abandoned your fundamental values and ability to tell right from wrong.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, who is not an MK, said Gabbay had “forgotten what it means to be a human being” and that he was moving so far to the Right, he could outflank Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
Likud MK Anat Berko told the plenum that there are Muslim fundamentalists among the migrants who support ISIS and are “a ticking time bomb.”
Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul, who has sparred with Gabbay, spoke against the bill in the plenum. But Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli spoke in favor of it, saying that migrant workers who are paid less under the table have taken jobs from poor Tel Aviv residents.
“Residents have been left at home with no work, because of the migrants,” Michaeli said. “There are MKs in the opposition who cannot look in[to] the eyes of residents who are screaming for us to save them.”Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report/