Professor Amnon Rubinstein
Professor Amnon Rubinstein. Photo by Eyal Toueg
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Leading jurists yesterday sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin urging him to prevent the passage of a bill that would limit foreign workers' legal right to work for the employer of their choice, and "bind" them to their employer.

Among the 53 signatories are former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, Israel Prize laureate Prof. Amnon Rubinstein and the country's first chief public defender, Prof. Kenneth Mann.

The Knesset's Interior and Environmental Affairs Committee is set to approve the bill today, which will allow the plenum to vote on it in second and third readings.

The jurists warned Rivlin that if passed, the legislation would damage the basic rights of migrant laborers "by deepening and strengthening their dependence on their employers so they can maintain their legal status, and in thwarting their ability to extricate themselves from a harmful employment situation." The jurists said such damage to basic human rights is prohibited by law, and reminded Rivlin that in a 2006 ruling, the High Court of Justice called such limitations on foreign workers "a kind of modern-day slavery."

According to the proposed law, the interior minister can decided how many times a migrant laborer working in nursing care can change employers, and limit the geographical region in which he or she may work.

Rubinstein, who also served in a number of ministerial positions, said yesterday: "Israeli democracy is tested among other things by its attitude to foreign workers, and 'binding' a worker to an employer does not conform to the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state."

Rubinstein said that Israel had the right not to import foreign labor, but once it has done so, those workers are protected by the Basic law on Human Dignity and Freedom.

Also among the signatories to the letter are retired Judges Yehudit Tzur, Saviona Rotlevi and Boaz Okun, and professors Yehuda Kremnitzer, Frances Raday, Uriel Procaccia, Eyal Benvenisti and Fania Oz-Salzberger.