Israel's AG Defends Detention of Migrants for Minor Crimes

During a tour of south Tel Aviv, Yehuda Weinstein says new regulations, under which migrants can face prolonged incarceration for relatively minor offenses, are meant to fight illegal immigration.

The government is enforcing new regulations, under which migrants can face prolonged incarceration for relatively minor offenses, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Monday, during a tour of south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park and the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, where many African migrants live

“We have lowered the threshold for offenses that are a real threat to public safety and we are strict about this threshold,” Weinstein said.

Referring to two recent cases in which Sudanese migrants were imprisoned without being brought before a court, Weinstein said that it was right that both suspects had been subsequently released. “I don’t regret it for a moment… It says nothing about future cases. Each case will be examined individually,“ he said, during a discussion with members of a grass-roots neighborhood action group.

Neither of the suspects, one of whom was held on suspicion of stealing a bicycle and the other on suspicion of rape, was ever charged.

Sudanese migrant and actor Babiker Ibrahim, who was held on the bicycle charge, approached Weinstein during the visit, shook his hand, and asked him to annul the regulation. “Please change this law. I was a victim of this law and there are many more victims still in Saharonim,” Ibrahim said, referring to the Negev detention facility for migrants.

Weinstein said during his visit that Israel had difficulty containing “large numbers of infiltrators” and that the government’s policy was - and would remain - to fight illegal immigration. While the state had succeeded in stemming the flow of migrants by building a fence on the border with Egypt and introducing new legislation, “problems still exist with regard to those who are already here,” Weinstein said. “I have no doubt they present difficulty that cannot be taken lightly by the residents of the area - and not only by them.”

The state was responding proportionately to the situation, said Weinstein, who was accompanied by members of his staff, including deputy attorney general Raz Nezri. “Every person has a right to human dignity. The Sudanese and the Eritreans are entitled to human dignity. They are entitled to be treated with respect. [But] I do not ignore the human dignity of the people who have been living here since the early days, dozens of people, whose lives have suddenly changed. This needs to be dealt with and it will be dealt with.”

Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv protested during the attorney general’s visit, accusing the government of abandoning them. “Nobody wants to live in Africa,” said Zahava Shirazi, 80, who lives near the old Central Bus station. “I can’t sell my apartment. At night I don’t leave the house. I am afraid.”

The chairman of the neighborhood action group, city councilman Shlomo Maslawi, who was one of the driving forces behind Weinstein’s tour the area, criticized the release of people arrested under the new regulations. “Infiltrators feel they can do everything here. It’s become hell. The social systems have collapsed. We expect the attorney general to understand that there is a real problem here, a national problem. There’s a problem of law enforcement,” Maslawi said.

Several loud arguments erupted between migrants and Israeli residents of the neighborhood during Weinstein’s tour. “Go back to Africa,” residents called out. “You’re not an Israeli,” a Sudanese migrant shouted back. Weinstein, who was accompanied by Border Police and surrounded by journalists and photographers, tried to stay out of the arguments. He spoke only briefly with the migrants and the residents, mainly listening to them.

A representative of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority told Weinstein that most of the businesses in the area were operated by Sudanese and Eritrean migrants. Arik Shua, the director of Tel Aviv municipality’s neighborhoods and quarters department, added that Israelis owned most of the businesses, but the migrants operated them. Weinstein promised to call a special meeting of the heads of local authorities and their legal advisers to discuss ways of limiting the granting of business licenses to African migrants.

“There are things that quite surprised me,” the attorney general said afterwards. “I thought I had solved the issue of the business licenses when I decided that we would enforce the law. It turns out that things on the ground are not exactly as they seem. We will look into this matter.”

While Weinstein was touring south Tel Aviv, the city’s mayor, Ron Huldai, was answering a query by city council member Sharon Luzon about businesses belonging to migrants. Luzon’s query followed a report in Haaretz that Eritreans, even those with work permits, were being refused business licenses. Such a policy was “discriminatory, selective, immoral and dubiously legal,” Luzon said.

Huldai responded that ”one of the serious problems we are dealing with is the ability to enforce the law against illegal businesses or those that contravene the conditions of their license. As opposed to what you claim, this does not negate a person’s ability to earn a living, but rather the ability of temporary foreigners to become business owners. There is nothing to prevent them making a living in the framework of their temporary work permits.”

Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi said he welcomed the city’s decision “not to allow infiltrators to open businesses or strengthen themselves economically” in the city. “We must act in other ways to get them out of the city as fast as possible,” he said.

Nevertheless, the municipality decided recently that businesspeople in the process of receiving their licenses and who met all conditions could complete the process.

Nir Kedar