Knesset Rushes to Pass Amendment to Infiltration Law Before Dissolving

If the amendment fails to pass on Monday, the controversial Holot detainment center must be shut down and its more than 2,200 detainees released.

Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The Knesset is expected to pass the second and third readings on Monday afternoon of the new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which would pave the way for the continued operation of the Holot detention facility for illegal migrants. 

The Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee has cleared the amendment on Monday morning ahead of the plenum vote.

If the original bill is presented, it is expected to be supported by Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and Shas, some members of Yesh Atid and Hatnuah. Labor, Meretz, Hadash, United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad will vote against the bill.

The amendment calls for asylum seekers to be incarcerated for three months at Saharonim prison and thereafter to be moved to Holot, where their detention would be limited to a year and eight months. A prohibition against the migrants’ working would remain in force, but they would only have to present themselves for head count once a day instead of the previous three. The bill also states that if a detainee at Holot breaks any of the rules the Population and Immigration Authority can send him to Saharonim Prison for up to four months.

Committee chairwoman Miri Regev said Sunday that she had not yet decided whether to bring the bill before the committee in the form in which it passed its first reading by the cabinet and the Knesset, or to insist, over the objections of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, that detention be extended to six months at Saharonim and two years at Holot.

The recently dismissed finance minister, MK Yair Lapid and Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said their faction would support the bill only in the version approved by the government. Regev has expressed willingness to present the bill without changes out of concern that it would not pass without the support of Yesh Atid.

The High Court of Justice — which twice overturned amendments to the law and called Holot more of a prison than an open facility — gave the state three months to draft alternative legislation. If the amendment fails to pass by December 22, Holot must be shut down and its more than 2,200 detainees released. Because of the impending dissolution of the Knesset, today will be the last opportunity to pass the law.

The Yesh Atid faction said that only after the bill was passed in the Knesset Interior Committee would it decide whether to impose faction discipline on the vote in the plenum.

Yesh Atid MK Shimon Solomon told Haaretz: “I will certainly abstain, but now I am considering whether to vote against it.”

Yesh Atid MK Yifat Kariv said she would vote against the bill if it was changed in any way from the original. “But even in its present form I prefer not to support it,” she said, noting that asylum seekers must be treated in accordance with international conventions, and that now that her faction was no longer a member of the coalition, there was no need to support the bill.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata responded to a critic on her Facebook page by saying that she would not vote for the bill and told Haaretz that racism was a factor in the amendment and that the Holot detention center was “built only for Africans.”

MK Adi Kol said she would decide how to vote once she saw the wording of the bill as it is passed by the Knesset Interior Committee. Outgoing Health Minister Yael German and MK Ruth Calderon are said to be against the amendment, but neither responded to Haaretz queries on the matter.

Dissenting voices are being heard among legislators from Hatnuah, which has so far supported the bill. “I am against putting people in detention without due process,” MK Amram Mitzna said, adding: “I prefer to invest the money and means in giving a livelihood to those who are here and cannot be deported.” Outgoing Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah’s chairwoman, and her faction colleagues MKs Meir Sheetrit and Elazar Stern did not respond to Haaretz queries.

Outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said that in principle he was against the bill but referred Haaretz to fellow faction member MK David Tsur whom he said was coordinating the faction’s position with regard to the bill.

Tsur, for his part, said he intended to support the bill from the opposition, although he objected to an extension to two years at Holot and said the asylum seekers should be allowed to work.

United Arab List-Ta’al chairman MK Ahmed Tibi and Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said their factions would vote against the bill, which Zahalka said expressed “hatred of the other and damage to human rights.”

The chairman of United Torah Judaism, MK Yaakov Litzman, and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz did not respond to Haaretz’s queries.