Lawmakers puzzled over the High Court's decision to declare the Migrant Law unconstitutional in a Knesset Interior Committee meeting Tuesday, questioning the courts' role and legal advisers' competence.
Meanwhile, as ministries worked on a new policy for illegal migrants, the committee called for those already in Israel to be spread around the country rather than concentrated in weak areas like south Tel Aviv.
Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) opened the hastily-called meeting, scheduled overnight Monday, by saying that "the Knesset is in recess, but south Tel Aviv residents aren't."
On Monday afternoon, the nine High Court judges unanimously struck down a law allowing the country to hold African migrants for up to three years without an administrative process determining their status, and gave the state 90 days to free over 2,000 of them held in the Saharonim detention center in the Negev and determine their status as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants to be deported.
"It's great that we built a fence, but it isn't enough. The fence needs to be combined with laws so work migrants leave willingly and aren't motivated to bring their friends," Regev said.
The committee chairman pointed out that legal advisors in the Knesset, Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry all reviewed the law that was overturned and approved it.
"I don't understand what was wrong with the law," she stated.
Dror Granit, a lawyer from the Justice Ministry, explained that his job is to advise the government on its policies. When he attempted to describe the legal precedent of the High Court overturning laws, Regev said she wants answers, not an academic lecture.
"We need to judge [legal advisers] by the result of their work and the result is a failure because the bill was canceled," Regev responded.
Assistant Knesset Legal Adviser Gur Blei said that Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon visited the Knesset Interior Committee and suggested several changes to the bill, some of which were adopted.
"The court said that if there are less than 2,000 migrants in the holding facility and 55,000 outside it, then the law isn't meeting its goal," Blei said. "Nothing is preventing us from finding a more proportionate alternative policy."
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) pointed out that he said the bill is unconstitutional when the committee reviewed it, to which Regev responded that he's "not a legal advisor, [he's] just Dov Henin."
"I'll explain why Dov Henin is the only one who knew this law would be overturned," MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) said. "If the body that chose the prime minister were High Court judges and not the people of Israel, Dov Henin would probably be prime minister."
"The problem here is the High Court. The judges are detached from reality. They tell people to eat cake when they can't afford bread," Feiglin stated.
MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) also took issue with the court, saying that "the people and the Knesset make decisions in a democracy, not nine people, no matter how important they are. If the judges' values are so important to them, they should run for the Knesset. The court has become a dictatorship."
According to Eichler, the court was never given the authority to overturn laws.
Population Authority Director-General Amnon Ben-Ami said his office is reviewing its options, including passing a bill in the Knesset's winter session, which begins on October 14.
"The law was our main tool that brought us to a situation where no illegal migrants crossed the border. The court's decision harms our ability to quickly deport them to a third country," Ben-Ami stated, adding that deportation should be the first priority.
Several of the meeting's participants disagreed with Ben-Ami, calling for the government to immediately send the migrants concentrated in south Tel Aviv to other parts of the country.
"This is heaven for infiltrators and hell for south Tel Aviv's residents. We have to make sure the burden doesn't only fall on south Tel Aviv residents. The judges brought justice to Jerusalem but not to south Tel Aviv," Regev stated.
Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi called the situation in south Tel Aviv "impossible."
"We're not racist, we're not trying to kick anyone out, we just want to be able to live and raise our children like anyone else," he added.
According to Giladi, police posted signs in migrant areas in different languages explaining that Yom Kippur is a solemn and holy day for Jewish people, but the migrants held noisy parties and outdoor barbecues.
"They knew it was a holy day and did it on purpose," Giladi said. "We need to act immediately, not in 90 days, to spread them to other place in Israel."
Henin called not only for migrants to be spread around the country to stronger neighborhoods, but for them to be given work permits.
"Why do we bring foreign workers for jobs in agriculture and construction?" Henin asked.
The committee also addressed refugees, with Ben-Ami explaining that the Population Authority interviews everyone brought to Saharonim, and a committee reviews each case to decide whether or not to recommend that a person be declared a refugee and allowed to stay in Israel.
Regev maintained that the meeting is about work migrants, and not refugees. The latter, she said, will always be accepted in Israel.
Feiglin referred to the St. Louis, a ship of 915 refugees from Nazi Germany, most of whom were Jewish, who were not given asylum in the US and sent back to Europe in 1939, saying that the Jewish People know the importance of aiding refugees.
"We're not talking about real refugees here," Feiglin stated. "We're talking about criminals that are making people's lives miserable."