A group that assists migrant workers in Israel on Thursday blasted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's comments Thursday that illegal foreign workers infiltrating Israel from Sinai are causing social and economic damage, calling the comments "hypocrisy" and "racist."
In a statement titled "Netanyahu reaches a new level of hypocrisy," the Hotline for Migrant Workers accused the prime minister of scapegoating refuge-seekers from Africa to distract the public from the fact that he approved work visas for more than 120,000 foreigners in the past year alone, according to the Hotline's figures.
"Netanyahu, who broke all previous records for work permits for foreign workers, is trying to hide this fact from the public by blaming the refugees, who constitute one-60th of the number of foreign workers Netanyahu allowed to enter Israel," the statement reads.
The NGO also took issue with Netanyahu's assertion that the refugees constitute a threat to the state's Jewish character, saying "the real danger to the Jewish character of Israel is the many upper-class Jews who forget that their parents were once refugees, and sully the name of refugees in order to hide their submission to manpower contractors."
A hotline representative told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that the focus on refuge-seekers from Africa, who number only about 3,000, compared to the 120,000 foreign workers granted visas, according to the NGO's figures, is in part to rebrand them as migrant workers and not refugees, in order to absolve Israel from its responsibilities to asylum-seekers.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Israel Manufacturers Association in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the prime minister said, "The rise in the infiltration of illegal foreign workers could turn into a flood, causing economic and social damage while threatening to wash away our great achievements."
Netanyahu added, "We have created a Jewish and democratic nation and we cannot let it turn into a nation of foreign workers."
He gave the example of Eilat, Arad and even Tel Aviv, which have changed as a result of the wave of infiltration.
"I don't know if you have recently been to Eilat or Arad, but some parts have changed unrecognizably and we need to stop this development. One of the problems of Israel is the very success of our economy, which today is included among the developed economies around the world, and has emerged out of this crisis better than most countries. Some of the countries and economies in our proximity are suffering great hardships, which in turn is increasing our attractiveness and is starting to draw populations from less developed countries," the prime minister said. "We are the only country where you can cross from third world countries and enter Israel by foot through Sinai. There is a danger that this illegal infiltration will grow."
Netanyahu added that he will be paying a visit to Mount Harif in the Negev and the Gaza border on Thursday, to create a framework that will hinder the infiltration from Africa.
Furthermore, Netanyahu warned industrialists and employers that the government was planning to legislate strict laws and enforce them with a firm hand against the illegal employment of infiltrators and foreign workers, and to impose harsh sanctions and large fines.
"We have to protect Israeli workers and support the entry and integration of the haredi sector and the Arab Israeli population into the labor force, in an effort to bring down poverty and boost economic growth," the prime minister said.
Also speaking at the conference, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the government will enforce draconian sanctions if necessary to deter and punish employers hiring illegal foreign workers.
"As of 2010, the Tax Authority will not recognize expenses for tax purposes that are connected to the employment of illegal workers," Steinitz said.
Netanyahu reiterated the steps the government was planning to take to remove bureaucratic and infrastructure obstacles to Israel becoming a regional economic power and a world leader in technology.
"Over the next two weeks we are going to pass the government's plan for a national transportation system for roads and trains connecting the Galilee and the Negev with the rest of the country," he said. "As a result, we will enable faster travel and have commuting times bringing the majority of the population to Tel Aviv within not more than one to two hours, instead of the five hours on average it takes today."
On Wednesday night, the ministerial committee on the planning and building reform headed by Netanyahu approved the reform, after it was decided that the coastline protection committee will not be canceled. That committee ensures guards against environmental damage and unrestricted development in a 300-meter strip from the waterline.
In addition it was determined that an environmental representative will sit on local authority planning committees alongside two public representatives. The reform, which promises to speed up the approval process for construction permits and to fight corruption, will transfer more authority and power from the regional planning councils to the local ones.