In mid-March the leader of the community of African foreign workers in Israel, Nana Holdbrook, left Israel. In a farewell interview with Nurit Wurgaft in Haaretz, he described Israeli society as xenophobic, a society in which incitement against foreigners starts at the top, with the government. Holdbrook said Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui) is the worst minister ever for his attitude to foreign workers - worse even than Eli Suissa and Eli Yishai of Shas.
As a member of the opposition, Poraz was one of those who helped establish an association to benefit foreign workers, but when he became interior minister the foreign workers discovered that he no longer knows them. More than a year has gone by since the present government was formed. A year is enough time to change policy, but the Population Directorate in the Interior ministry continues to behave toward foreign workers, new immigrants and converts to Judaism as though the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) were still in control of the ministry.
More than a year has passed, but the first secular government has not yet laid down any procedure by which a migrant worker such as Holdbrook, who was here for 16 years and is a positive, productive individual, can be granted the status of permanent resident. So, after 16 years Holdbrook was forced to leave the country in which he spent most of his adult life. We lost an excellent person. True, not a Jew, but excellent nonetheless.
It's the same with subjects on which broader social consensus exists, such as granting citizenship to the children of foreign workers. Poraz talks a great deal but does very little. In the meantime, the children's fathers are continuing to be deported. Many families are leaving in order to spare their children the trauma of persecution, and this is in fact the likely goal of the whole disgraceful attitude.
Other highly creative regulations of the Interior Ministry - children of foreign workers are issued only "live birth" certificates, and if a foreign worker gives birth to a child whose father is an Israeli citizen, the ministry will not recognize paternity without an expensive tissue test.
A year has gone by, and the High Court of Justice is hearing petitions requesting recognition of conversions to Judaism. Since Poraz took over at the Interior Ministry, the state has not only not helped register Reform and Conservative converts as Jews, but for the first time, as Haaretz correspondent Amiram Barkat reported, it is also making life difficult for Orthodox converts.
And not only for those who were converted in Israel, but for those who were converted abroad too. The state is demanding - apparently without any legal basis - that they prove they spent a year in the Jewish community in which they were converted. This is equality a la Poraz. Thus, Shoshana, a preacher in a Rotterdam church who studied Judaism for seven years and was converted, was denied recognition by the Interior Ministry. The background of the ministry's policy is supposedly fear of a mass conversion by foreign workers. There is no Jewish religious movement that is ready to lend a hand to any such conversion, but the ministry won't let the facts spoil things.
Even the High Court of Justice, which ruled explicitly that the Interior Ministry doesn't possess the authority to cast doubt on a proper conversion certificate from overseas, has been unable to persuade the ministry's officials. Until recently the ministry also compiled blacklists of people who are "denied treatment" and conducts investigations to clarify the Judaism of new immigrants and converts as though it were a branch of the court of the Eda Haredit group.
Thousands of couples are forced to go abroad to marry because they can't get married in Israel. However, no one in the Interior Ministry is doing anything to void the religious monopoly on conducting marriages - for example, by recognizing consular marriages in embassies of countries of the former Soviet Union, or by recognizing marriages conducted by mail.
The middle classes can afford to have their children marry abroad. For new immigrants with few resources it's far more difficult.
This appears to be the true criterion of the Interior Ministry today - if you're weak, you don't exist. There is little chance the coalition committee discussing the possibility of introducing civil marriage for those who can't get married in Israel will complete its work before the government changes.
The Shinui party is aware of the tremendous damage Interior Ministry policy is causing it. Over and over we hear the refrain that Poraz is unable to impose his policy on his subordinates. No one should expect the public to take this excuse seriously - if Poraz can't persuade the director of the Population Directorate, Herzl Gedj, and his staff to change their policy, he must replace them.
If he thinks the inhuman attitude his ministry is displaying toward its clients is not sufficient legal cause to fire the officials and clerks in question, let him appoint a committee to examine the directorate's attitude toward new immigrants, converts and non-Jews.
If none of that helps - Poraz must resign. Because anyone who heads a bureaucracy that relentlessly embitters the lives of non-Jews or new Jews as such, cannot wash his hands of the matter by claiming that he has not been able to bring his officials into line.
This year has been a serious stain on Poraz's career, and the stain continues to spread. If there is no turnabout in his performance, Poraz will be remembered as the first secular interior minister who effectively operated as a representative of Shas policies there.
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