Asylum seekers in Israel
Asylum seekers in Israel. Photo by Alex Levac
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The legal provision that makes it possible to impose a gag order on the state comptroller’s reports is invoked only very rarely – in special cases in which the disclosure of information is liable to damage national security or the country’s foreign relations. Apparently the government of Israel considers the comptroller’s report on its treatment of asylum seekers to be such a case. The general public has no information yet about what exactly is written there, as the report will be published only in May, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to impose a gag order on it at the very least hints at its tone: “The opinion expressed in the comptroller’s report on a certain issue was contrary to the attorney general’s opinion that guides the government in the treatment of infiltrators and was liable to damage the State of Israel’s foreign relations.”

In addition to the consistent use of the word “infiltrators,” even though Israel has granted collective protection to the Eritreans and Sudanese who come into the country, which gives them at least the status of asylum seekers – the official reaction shows that the state comptroller is not commending the Israeli government’s modes of action toward them.

In recent months, the government has expended considerable resources on persecuting the asylum seekers: The building of imprisonment facilities; aggressive legislation that circumvents the High Court of Justice in order to make it possible to lock people up without trial; manhunts in the streets; and foot-dragging in the examination of applications for refugee status are just some of the measures aimed at pushing them to “voluntary departure.” All this is happening alongside the implementation of irregular initiatives, such as expulsion to unnamed countries, the existence of which has been acknowledged by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

The Israeli government’s motivation and the actions it is taking, which are legitimized by the attorney general, contravene international agreements to which Israel is a party. Thus, they are troubling to the High Court of Justice, which in September unanimously ruled against the amendment to the law to prevent infiltration.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has announced that he will not allow a gag on the report, but following a conversation with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein the wording about the contravention of international agreements concerning asylum seekers has been toned down. Indeed this compromise lights up another warning signal: If the government of Israel’s behavior toward the asylum seekers were decent, humane and also legal, there would have been no need to conceal it or change its description.