Anti-migration bill passes final vote in Knesset

Law allows state to detain some migrants in prison for up to 1 year; others can be detained in open facilities.

A young African girl in Israel 370 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
A young African girl in Israel 370 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
The Knesset passed a new policy meant to curb illegal migration from Africa into law early Tuesday morning, despite opposition MKs attempted filibuster, with 30 MKs voting in favor and 15 opposed.
“If we raise our hands and give up or decide to be the most liberal country in the West in dealing with infiltration, we’ll lose our only country,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said after a six-hour debate on the bill. “We are determined to prevent the renewal of infiltration into Israel and to reduce the number of infiltrators living in Israel.”
The new Entry to Israel Law comes after the Supreme Court canceled its previous version in September, saying it was disproportionate and unconstitutional.
Sa’ar quoted from a Supreme Court ruling that “a constitution is not a prescription for suicide and human rights are not a platform for national destruction.”
Israel does not have a constitution, but laws defying certain Basic Laws are considered unconstitutional.
“You oppose all methods and all laws relating to infiltrators.
You want a state of all its infiltrators. You want us to give up, but we won’t. This law serves the interests of the country, of its citizens – Jewish and Arab. You said the law is shameful. Not only are we not embarrassed by this, we would be mortified if we were careless in protecting our only country,” Sa’ar responded to heckling from the opposition.
The debate on the bill lasted almost until 3 a.m. and opposition MKs registered extra speeches on the item that preceded it on the Knesset’s agenda as part of an attempted filibuster.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) called the bill “dangerous and false. It lacks any solution for the problems of south Tel Aviv and does the opposite. It worsens the lives of people in poor families and of the refuge seekers from Africa.”
Henin said the new detention centers the bill calls for will cost hundreds of millions of shekels that could be spent on social welfare. He demanded that the money be used to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv and help other underprivileged citizens.
MK Michal Roisin (Meretz) told the coalition: “Don’t say we didn’t warn you! [Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu)] sat in the committee after the Supreme Court disqualified the government’s previous law and yelled at the legal advisers: ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ Now you can’t say that. The writing is on the wall and it’s clear!” “I am personally embarrassed by this bill, and collectively, we will all regret it. We only lose out from it,” Roisin added.
The legislation reduces the maximum amount of time a migrant can be kept in a closed detention facility, splitting the detainees into two categories.
Whereas before all migrants could be held in closed detention for three years pending a determination of their refugee status, now the default will be for migrants to be held in an open detention facility indefinitely.
Only certain migrants, such as those suspected of breaking a law or the rules of the open facility, can be held in closed detention and for a maximum of only one year.
New migrants entering Israel will be provided with food, drink, health services and a place to sleep in the holding facility – run by the Public Security Ministry and Prisons Service – that will now be open during the day. The detention center will be closed at night and there will be head counts, which the Interior Ministry says will help it make sure the migrants aren’t illegally employed.
In addition, the government plans to enforce laws against employing migrants.
“If it were up to me, they’d all be sent back to where they came from,” Regev said while presenting the bill in the plenum on Monday. She was met with shouting by Meretz MKs, who attempted to block her from even reading the text of the legislation.
“This is an Isra-bluff bill,” MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said, using a slang term for corruption. “This is the same thing, if not worse than the law the Supreme Court disqualified.
It’s a jail run by Prisons Service. If it looks like a prison and is run like a prison, it’s a prison. It looks like there will be no choice and this bill will be brought to the Supreme Court yet again.”