At a cabinet session this Tuesday, the prime minister directed an irate outburst at his labor minister: "You don't understand your role!" he shouted. "I asked you to get the illegal workers out of the country - not the legal laborers who were supposed to work in agriculture. You caused more damage to Israeli agriculture than anyone in the past 50 years. You're screwing the farmers."
Ariel Sharon's ire was aroused by Shlomo Benizri's comment on the prime minister's proposal to deport 50,000 foreign workers: "On one hand, you give an instruction for 50,000 workers to be deported, and on the other, you authorize permits for thousands of foreign laborers for agriculture."
Sharon was furious at Benizri for speaking the truth - and indeed, the truth is infuriating. The farmers (for whom Sharon is a mouthpiece) say that no Israelis are willing to work in agriculture. They also claim that they are bringing in laborers solely to work in agriculture, and these workers go back to Thailand or China upon completing their contracts. However, both these claims are imprecise.
Israelis are not willing to work in agriculture because the pay is low and conditions are tough. But that is not a law of nature. If the farmers were not allowed to bring in laborers from Thailand and China, they would have to raise wages, improve conditions and use more sophisticated and profitable growing methods - methods that would make it possible for them to pay more and employ Israelis. The fact is that Israelis work in garbage collection, and that is no less difficult than working in agriculture.
As for the second claim, many of the laborers who come to work in agriculture flee their employers and head for the big city to look for more lucrative employment - and even settle permanently in Israel. Proof of this can be found in the case of Lee Bin, a 33-year-old Chinese citizen who died this week of wounds sustained in the double suicide bombing in the Neve Sha'anan pedestrian mall in Tel Aviv. Bin, it transpired, came to Israel over three years ago to work as in agriculture, but after a short while he left his employer and moved to Tel Aviv to work in occasional construction jobs.
Later in their altercation, Sharon threw an insult at Benizri: "Do you even know what sowing wheat is? First you have to take 17 steps in preparation. Do you even take 17 steps in your office? I am appropriating your authority to deport 50,000 foreign workers and transferring it to the chief of police."
We have news for the prime minister. Because of the limitations of the law, even the heroic chief of police will not be able to deport 50,000 foreign workers. And that being the case, why increase the number of foreign workers and then announce a deportation that will not happen?
Benizri does not have a ranch. He also does not employ foreign laborers and make money on their backs. But he does understand that foreign workers bring salaries down, take jobs away from Israelis and constitute a social, cultural and Jewish time bomb that will one day blow up in our faces.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now