Populism is not a policy
Netanyahu accused an ill-defined population of "foreigners" of creating security problems; he confused refugees and migrant laborers; and he incited the Israeli public against whose who are "taking jobs away from us."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dramatic announcement on Sunday that Israel now has "a different immigration policy, clear and resolute," is laughable. It is hard to understand how this policy is either "different" or "resolute," aside from the promise to deport 50,000 foreigners a year; and one thing it certainly is not is "clear." Indeed, it is hard to dignify what sounds like an empty declaration with the term "policy" at all.
Netanyahu accused an ill-defined population of "foreigners" of creating security problems and being involved in drug crimes; he confused refugees and migrant laborers; and he incited the Israeli public against whose who are "taking jobs away from us." His populist promise that the children of foreign workers will not be harmed by the new policy did nothing to sweeten the bitter taste of his assault.
Apparently the new policy - which Netanyahu's bureau, as is its wont, termed a "reform" - will only make life harder with one hand for those whom the government will keep right on bringing here with the other. The government will, it seems, be satisfied with embittering the lives of the 120,000 foreign workers to whom it granted visas this year. This vertiginous figure is rivaled only by the number of visas granted to foreign workers during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister and during Eli Yishai's previous terms as interior minister and industry and trade minister.
Given the chilling contradiction between the government's pronouncements and the facts - which demonstrate that Netanyahu and his ministers are actually encouraging foreign labor - there is no choice but to interpret Netanyahu's words as pure incitement, which is causing unjustified panic and encouraging xenophobia. Particularly outrageous is his obscene claim that the foreigners threaten the state's Jewish identity.
Even the figures he cites are controversial. According to Netanyahu, some 170,000 foreign workers are currently living here illegally, along with tens of thousands of asylum seekers. But the latest OECD report states that Israel has no clue how many migrant laborers and refugees are living here.
Netanyahu talks about 12 percent of the labor force, but the OECD lists the figure as 3.8 percent, which is less than the Western average. Yet even if the OECD is underestimating the phenomenon, it is not the migrant workers who are destroying the labor market, but the government, which grants middlemen - the manpower companies - broad power to import and exploit foreign workers, and thereby also weakens Israeli workers.
Israel needs a serious immigration policy, and it needs to create decent jobs. It does not need a campaign of fear-mongering.