Migrant worker protest
Children of migrant workers protesting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2010. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi / BauBau
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet on Sunday recommendations by an inter-ministerial committee to deport 400 children of migrant workers within 21 days.

The vote won the approval of 13 ministers. Ten voted against the recommendations, and four abstained.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman had recommended the move, suggesting deporting children except those of migrant workers who have been in Israel for more than five years, and are either entering first grade or a higher school grade. The children who are allowed to stay must also speak Hebrew, and if they were not born in Israel, they must have arrived in Israel before the age of 13.

The agreement applies only to children whose parents entered Israel legally.

Whoever does not meet the criteria will be asked to leave the county within a month.

More than 1,200 children were up for deportation earlier this year, of which 800 children met the criteria and will be granted approval to remain here.

Shas ministers objected, as expected, but Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar unexpectedly objected as well, calling for keeping all the children in Israel and granting legal status to preschool children as well.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog unexpectedly abstained from the vote, despite his former declarations that he refused to vote with Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas ).

"I didn't vote in favor [of the proposal] because despite the improvements, which I supported, I could not accept deporting a group of 5-year-old children," Herzog said.

Ben-Eliezer voted against his party's position and persuaded Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon to object as well.

"This is not the Jewish state I know, if it deports children," he shouted at the cabinet session.

Just before the vote Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who were against easing the conditions for staying in Israel, argued with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Welfare Minister Herzog, who favored easier criteria.

Netanyahu intervened and after private conversations with the ministers, they agreed that the children who did not meet the required criteria for staying in Israel, would be allowed to appeal to a committee on the basis of exceptional status.

Families with children who meet the criteria will be asked to submit a request, attached to documentation, to the Interior Ministry within 21 days, according to an interministerial committee's recommendations.

After aid groups claimed that 21 days is an unrealistically short period of time, the Interior Ministry added a clause giving those who meet the criteria an extra 21 days to produce documentation, if they are found to qualify for the status after their first request. At first, Netanyahu proposed appointing a special committee to deal with exceptional cases. But this proposal drew fire from all directions. Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu objected, as well as Ben-Eliezer, Sa'ar and Simhon.

Finally, the cabinet decided that Yishai would examine the borderline cases and consult with the interministerial committee that drafted the recommendations. The committee would provide a sort of supervision, the cabinet decided.

"This is a reasonable and balanced decision," Netanyahu said Sunday after deciding to deport hundreds of migrant workers' children. "It was influenced by two primary considerations - the humanitarian consideration and the Zionist consideration. We're looking for a way to absorb and adopt to our hearts children who were brought up and raised here as Israelis. On the other hand, we don't want to create an incentive that will lead to hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers flooding the country," he said.

Children who will be going to compulsory kindergarten this year, due to a psychological diagnosis stipulating they are not ready for first grade, will also receive legal status, on the basis of a Justice Ministry amendment.

Documents include the children's original birth certificates or legally notarized certificates, the passports with which the parents entered Israel, confirmations from schools they went to and others.

UNICEF Israel, the organization in charge of enforcing the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, protested the cabinet's decision, calling it a "blatant violation" of the convention, which Israel signed with 200 other states worldwide.

"Israel must formulate a humane immigration policy and stop the senseless revolving door policy, that wants to deport migrant workers and their children, on the one hand, and bring in new ones instead, on the other hand," UNICEF Israel said in a statement.