Justice Ministry ignores Knesset legal adviser’s objections to migrant bill

Tempers flare at panel hearing, with with MK Henin throwing accusations of "McCarthyism," Sa'ar accusing of "Stalinism."

African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Justice Ministry on Wednesday rejected criticism from Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon over a bill to transform the country’s policy on migrants.
The existing policy was struck down in mid-September by the High Court of Justice as unconstitutional.
Though he did not explicitly call the proposed legislation illegal, Yinon questioned whether it would meet the standard of legality set by the court’s decision.
In response, the Justice Ministry said that Yinon “has his opinion, and we have our opinion,” and made it clear that it did not view the Knesset legal adviser’s criticism as an obstacle to the bill.
The biggest differences between the new and old policies are that illegal migrants would now be placed in detention for one year, as opposed to three years, without a decision as to refugee status, and that detention centers, at least in name, would now be considered “open” as opposed to closed facilities resembling jails.
In that spirit, Yinon did say that the proposed policy would be more “balanced and proportionate” in that it would both shorten the amount of time migrants could be held and put them in an open facility. In addition, “closed” detention centers referenced in the legislation would apply only to newly arrived migrants and those who violate rules at the “open” detention center.
Yet he still found several problems.
For example, the bill says the government can release migrants after one year but is not required to do so. In addition, only two of the nine justices who called for the old policy to be canceled explicitly said that shortening the detention period would have made it acceptable. The other justices did not directly address the issue but appeared to invalidate the deterrence principle that any extended holding period would be based on.
Yinon also said the government must make sure that any open holding facility would be significantly different from a jail and, as such, that the bill specify what it would entail.
Although he also pointed to problems with a part of the bill saying a migrant from a country seen to be a danger to national security could be held indefinitely, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, in a Knesset Interior Committee meeting on Wednesday, insisted that the section could not be removed.
The meeting had been called to prepare the bill for its second and third readings next Tuesday.
Tempers flared at the committee meeting when Sa’ar said the government, as a matter of course, checks the status of each migrant who asks to be considered a refugee, and MK Dov Henin (Hadash), in response, asked for exact numbers and the decisions on their status.
At one point the discussion deteriorated to a shouting match between the two. Sa’ar angrily said Henin was “from a party that represented dark communist regimes,” adding that the MK “represents the migrants and I represent the people of Israel.”
Henin demanded that Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) call Sa’ar to order “so we don’t go back to the days of McCarthy.” Sa’ar retorted: “Or so we don’t go back to the days of Stalin.”