Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Moti Milrod
African migrants look on at police on horseback keeping the peace in south Tel Aviv. Photo by Moti Milrod

The border fence with Egypt, which was primarily intended to prevent the infiltration of unlawful labor migrants into Israel, is not scheduled to be completed before early 2013. Until then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in trying to deter African migrants through other means, namely a negative public relations campaign about the practicability of making the visit to Israel.

On Sunday, Netanyahu convened a large-scale forum attended by representatives from all of the relevant government ministries that deal with issues related to the unlawful labor migrants from Africa. The forum gathers every two weeks, at Netanyahu's behest, in order to receive updates on the pace of construction of the fence and the residential facilities for the unlawful migrants, as well as diplomatic contacts with African states for their return.

In the course of the most recent session, Netanyahu directed representatives of the national information directorate, which operates under the aegis of the Prime Minister's Office, to present him by the next session with a proposal for a media campaign in those African states from which the unlawful migrants are arriving, in order to deter them from crossing the border into Israel.

Netanyahu wishes to appraise the viability of a media campaign to be launched in those states, in which it would be made clear that Israel is not an attractive target for labor migrants from Africa. One high-ranking Israeli official states that Netanyahu wants to publicize in these African states the fact that every individual who is caught infiltrating through the Egyptian border will not be permitted to work in Israel, and will be summarily transferred to a detention facility where he or she would be incarcerated for a period of up to three years.

Another message that Netanyahu wishes to convey to potential labor migrants is that the fence now being erected along the border will make it extremely difficult to penetrate the Israeli border. In this manner, Netanyahu feels, the motivation of those migrants to set out on the journey from Africa to Israel will diminish.

Netanyahu's idea may be quite original, but its feasibility is not at all clear. The national information directorate in the PMO has begun to look into the matter, primarily in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry.

The biggest problem is that in those states from which the majority of the labor migrants are arriving - Eritrea and Sudan - the media and the minuscule publicity pie are absolutely controlled by the government. Perhaps it would be possible to undertake such a media campaign in social media on the Internet, but in this case, as well, it is wholly unclear whether the majority of citizens of the countries in question even have access to the Internet.

Similarly, there is concern that any such negative campaign could have a boomerang effect - instead of reducing the motivation of labor migrants to go to Israel, it could harm Israel's image in the public opinion in Africa and the West.

The bottom line, says a senior official involved in the matter, is that the most effective means of conveying the message to would-be migrants in Eritrea or Sudan who are considering coming to Israel for work, may be word of mouth. If unlawful migrants who have already arrived in Israel discern a shift in government policies, and find that are having a harder time working here - they will in turn spread the message to family and friends at home.

Read this article in Hebrew