Six-year-old Herzliya Kines, the Israeli-born child of Filipino parents, sat beside MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) at yesterday's Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child meeting as if nothing could be more natural. The committee was discussing the threat of deportation that looms over the girl and her family after the Interior Ministry rejected their application for residency.
The application was rejected because Herzliya was still four months short of turning six on the cutoff date set by the ministry's program to legalize the children of foreign workers. The case has made media waves, and her mother, Emilin Pakun, said that people now recognize Herzliya on the bus.
Pakun, 40, looked far less comfortable than Herzliya. She stood a meter to the rear of her daughter, and was careful to address those present as "mister" and "ma'am."
But even Herzliya was shy, and said very little - and even then, only in response to very leading questions. For example:
You're a celebrity now?
Why are you famous?
Because I want to stay here.
Why do you want to stay here?
Because I have many friends here.
How was your visit to the Knesset?
Herzliya does not really know what an MK or committee is; she was busy puzzling over the difference between Knesset and beit knesset (synagogue). So she did not realize that Yachimovich, the committee chair, was essentially the entire committee yesterday. Perhaps if the other MKs had realized that the media would be present in such force, they also would have come.
Nevertheless, there was a meeting. Yossi Edelstein, director of the Interior Ministry's Foreigners Department, protested that he had been invited to a session focused on a single child just because she has been in the headlines. Yachimovich replied that she sets the committee's agenda, and a single child can be an effective way of shedding light on the overall issue.
Edelstein reported that 60 families of foreign workers have thus far appealed the ministry's refusal to grant them residency rights. These appeals will be discussed by the ministry's exceptions committee, which will meet for the first time today.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On promised Haaretz a week ago that he would deal humanely with borderline cases such as Herzliya. But ministry officials who attended yesterday's meeting were much more cautious, and both Yachimovich and Herzliya's attorney tried in vain to discover what the exceptions committee's policy would be.
Herzliya was accompanied by her teacher, and before her arrival, managed to learn two vowels. She proudly recited words that began with those sounds.
Her father, Benedicto Kines, did not attend the session. He went instead to his regular cleaning job.
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