'IDF is not encouraging illegal infiltration'

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan says that such activities “are meant to strengthen the feeling of solidarity in Israeli communities."

African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev  (photo credit: REUTERS)
African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF is not encouraging “illegal infiltration” of Israel by carrying out volunteer efforts involving African migrants in south Tel Aviv, deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) said on Wednesday.
Ben-Dahan was responding to a parliamentary inquiry submitted by Likud MK Amir Ohana regarding a number of occasions in which soldiers in uniform took part in community service efforts that involved the African migrant community.
“It is disturbing that someone in the IDF is forcing soldiers to take part in activities that encourage illegal infiltration,” Ohana said in his inquiry.
He also cited a report by an anti-migrant NGO which he said showed that the groups arranging the meetings between soldiers and African migrants – including children – “were left-wing NGOs.”
Speaking on the floor of the Knesset on Wednesday, Ben-Dahan said in response that “the claim that the IDF is encouraging illegal infiltration to Israel by way of volunteer efforts in the community is wrong and baseless,” and that the volunteer work is carried out through legal, apolitical NGOs and thus not contrary to the policies of the government.
He said that such activities “are meant to strengthen the feeling of solidarity in Israeli communities,” but that regardless he had ordered an examination of the matter.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said on Wednesday that “all volunteer efforts are done in keeping with the value of the IDF and focus on social and community issues.”
Also on Wednesday, the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee held a meeting to discuss the problems facing south Tel Aviv residents due to the large population of African asylum-seekers in the area during the past decade.
A version of the “anti-infiltration bill” passed in 2014 stipulated that – among other measures – migrants must pay a monthly deposit of 20% their income that they can only receive after they leave the country.
During the meeting, Israeli Immigration Policy Center spokesman Yonatan Yakobovich criticized the government for failing to implement the stipulation, saying it could serve as a significant incentive for migrants to leave Israel.
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said on Wednesday that in order for the law to be implemented, the Finance Ministry first had to award a tender for a bank to run the fund. Their statement said that implementing the system would take at least six months, and since the tender was only awarded in May 2016, it still hasn’t been implemented.
According to figures from PIBA, as of March there were some 43,000 African migrants in Israel, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan. During Wednesday’s committee hearing, PIBA head Amnon Ben-Ami said that around 15,000 have agreed to leave Israel in the past few years. This is believed to be largely due to negative incentives including the threat of imprisonment in Holot detention facility in the South, as well as restrictions on their ability to work in Israel.
The influx of African migrants over the past 10 years has caused tension with their Israeli neighbors in areas such as south Tel Aviv, which has taken in the majority of migrants.
MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) said during the meeting on Wednesday that “we must find an answer for both sides. The government has encouraged everyone who arrives here to go to south Tel Aviv.
It’s impossible to send them back but we must take responsibility. This will only be solved when we deal with the depth of the issue.”