construction modiin 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Once in a while officialdom tries to do the right thing, only to find its
desirable initiatives end up stymied. But when the obstruction originates in our
highest judicial echelons, it is all the more dispiriting.
belatedly, at the end of 2009, the government decided to reduce the number of
permits it accords to foreign laborers in the building industry.
5,000 of the 8,000 construction workers currently here were to remain. In the
view of many, that cut was not sharp enough, but the decision was a bold step in
the right direction and it meant the deportation of 3,000 foreigners as of July
The 3,000 were to be the most veteran – those whose permits had either
expired or were up for renewal. The criterion was to be first-in,
As expected, building contractors were up in arms, as were
self-appointed human rights spokesmen. An appeal by 500 workers was lodged with
the Jerusalem Administrative Court, while the Contractors Association petitioned
the High Court of Justice.
The state had done nothing patently illegal,
but the Administrative Court issued an injunction which preempted the scheduled
deportation. The High Court then lassoed the already critically hobbled state
into a “compromise.”
Since the deportations were in any case impeded, the
state has had no choice but to agree to a strange formula whereby the projected
deportations will be “postponed” until at least October, and in the interim, new
government deliberations will ensue on whether to deport these workers at
The signal to the government could not be clearer: It has basically
lost the first round of a praiseworthy campaign to significantly reduce the
number of foreign employees taking jobs that could be filled by
IT IS hard to conceive of a situation whereby the government
would return months from now to the High Court and announce that it had decided
to modify nothing of its initial plan. What presumably will emerge is going to
be – at best – a watered-down version of the original initiative.
highly regrettable, foremost because this case constitutes an egregious example
of judicial intervention. There was no legal precedent for trampling on the
executive branch in this instance and certainly no issue of callous humanitarian
The prospective deportees weren’t hapless refugees, but economic
migrants with temporary permits, which were now either invalid or soon to
Such steps are an executive prerogative. The government is
entitled to embark on a policy to encourage Israelis to enter the building
From the contractors’ vantage point, such a policy would be bad
for business. Foreigners are largely at their mercy, and earn a fraction of what
Israelis would (to say nothing of social benefits), making them preferable to
employers. If anything, foreign laborers are apt to be more amenable and
They’re likelier to submit to outright exploitation,
especially as in some cases, workers’ passports are held hostage by their
It serves greedy property developers to claim that Israelis don’t
want to work in construction. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Since many
employers look for workers who’d do more for less, they aren’t likely to attract
Israelis – who’d do better subsisting on the dole. A vicious cycle results,
which the government was finally trying to break via these
THERE IS no rational reason why Israelis can’t earn a
living in construction, except for the fact that cheap labor is more
Construction isn’t one of the employment niches where
reliance on foreigners has become indispensable – such as in caring for
elderly and infirm or in seasonal agricultural work, where crops cannot
the vagaries of our labor market.
Were foreigners replaced by Israelis,
contractors would be forced to pay fair wages. That’s the outstanding
to Israeli labor. Because jobs are being withheld from Israelis,
foot additional unemployment and welfare bills.
Overall, cheap labor –
not just on the construction site but in a broad array of enterprises –
exceedingly expensive for Israeli society. We should be able to count on
judges to understand that.