Bar-On to make foreign workers a priority

Ronnie Bar-On declared that he would prioritize issues related to municipalities, planning, and foreign workers at a ceremony marking his inauguration as interior minister Sunday. He began his remarks by thanking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for choosing him for the post, then declared, "I will do my utmost to ensure that the citizens of Israel will be able to say that it is nicer to live here." One of the more contentious issues he faces, however, is the status of those who want to become citizens but can't: foreign workers and their children. Over the weekend, Bar-On said he hoped to resolve the issue within two weeks. "In my mind, there's no reason whatsoever why a child born in Israel wouldn't receive citizenship," he said. At Sunday's ceremony he was more circumspect, however, only reiterating that the issue was extremely important. Olmert also addressed the subject Sunday. He announced that, "I'm not hurrying to deport children who were born in this country, who learned the language and love the state, because of certain circumstances which they're not responsible for. I don't want to uproot them from their natural place." He added that he did want to see a reduction in the number of foreign workers, to be achieved by charging employers more in taxes and fees for foreign workers and therefore reducing the benefit of using cheap labor from abroad. Political observers have suggested that Olmert tapped Bar-On in part for his backroom political acumen, which would be helpful in recruiting the country's mayors to Kadima. Bar-On, 58, is remembered for his brief stint as attorney-general in Binyamin Netanyahu's administration. He served a mere 24 hours and stepped down amid a public outcry against his appointment. It was alleged that he had been chosen to lessen the punishment decreed for Shas leader Aryeh Deri.