Migrant worker protest
Children of migrant workers protesting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2010. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi / BauBau
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Even before its recent acceptance into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Israel had received other proof - far more convincing - that it was now a developed country. Over the past few years, thousands (some would say tens of thousands ) of illegal immigrants from underdeveloped countries have infiltrated Israel, seeking more remunerative work than they have back home.

Most no longer bother with the pretense that they are asylum seekers, but fly to Cairo, take a taxi to the porous Sinai border, and once within Israel, make contact with the Israeli voluntary organizations that welcome such immigrants. Inevitably, this unsolicited influx has created problems.

Last week it was reported that at a south Tel Aviv day care center, children of illegal foreign workers had been abused by the staff, who themselves were illegal foreign workers. A Tel Aviv social services official was berated by a radio presenter over the municipality's presumed indifference to conditions at the center. She pleaded in her defense that City Hall was not responsible for the facility. Responsibility lay with the national government, in particular the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which supervises day care centers in Israel. The hapless official was stuck on the ropes till the commercial break.

Hold on. This is the same government that arouses withering media criticism, stoked by the human rights organization cartel, when it attempts to deport illegal workers. Now it is criticized for failing to attend to the needs of those that it sought to bar and deport in the first place.

After backing down on deportation in 2009, the Netanyahu government promised to conduct a thorough review. Less advanced countries say manana, civilized countries promise a review, but either way, this failure to respond seriously only serves to exacerbate a problem that has never been subject to in-depth public debate.

Curiously, many of the same people against deporting illegal immigrants support a Palestinian state for the sake of keeping a Jewish majority in Israel. How do masses of illegal immigrants (many of them Muslim ) contribute to Israel's Jewish majority? Peace advocates also stress the need for officially recognized borders but are indifferent to the sieve-like quality of our official border with Egypt. The usually cacophonous rule-of-law chorus is also surprisingly silent over the flagrant transgressions by illegal workers and their employers.

One reason is self-interest. The illegals offer cheap household help that is ubiquitous in affluent progressive circles. Until he was exposed by the press (could it be because he refuses to exit the Netanyahu government? ), even our defense minister, Ehud Barak, illegally employed a Filipina housekeeper last year.

Two years ago the importers of Constructa appliances ran an advertising campaign featuring "George" from Ghana, who told us how he was able to satisfy his demanding matron thanks to the efficiency of Constructa products.

"George's" employer and their ilk should definitely be targeted as much and perhaps even more than the illegals. However, the continued influx shows that prospective employers do not believe a serious government crackdown is imminent.

Another rationalization for inaction is the moral homily frequently featuring the "you were strangers in the land of Egypt" argument. By this argument, Jews as a persecuted people must not deny others a haven. Some even recall prime minister Menachem Begin's 1977 decision to take in some of the South Vietnamese boat people fleeing the victorious communist regime.

And indeed, if the current laborers are bona fide asylum seekers, then undoubtedly Israel should play its part in granting them the type of refuge that was all too frequently denied European Jews during the 1930s. The boat people faced brutal communist re-education camps and other forms of deadly retribution.

Similarly, Jews expelled from Spain or England or fleeing Germany after the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht were not seeking economic advancement but physical salvation. Other destinations of Jewish emigration throughout history were countries actively seeking immigrants for commercial and industrial expansion that the Jews ably abetted. The current trend of illegal immigration falls into neither category.

Finally, we are expected to emulate advanced Western societies - and maybe we should. In the recently concluded British election the Tories and Labour vowed to get immigration under control and embraced the Australian point system, which allow authorities to admit immigrants beneficial to Britain and refuse entry to others.

Despite the boycott threats and the fulminations of talking heads, the newly passed law for controlling illegal immigration in Arizona commands majority public support in the United States. In Italy the big winner in the recent regional elections was the anti-immigrant Northern League. Immigration will be the hot-button issue in the June 9 parliamentary election in the Netherlands. We too need a genuine debate rather than a reality imposed by stealth, governmental inertia and media manipulation.

Amiel Ungar is a columnist for both the Makor Rishon daily and Nekuda.