Lawmakers Set to Approve Amendment to Anti-infiltration Law on Monday

Yesh Atid and some members of Hatnuah said to favor backing amendment that would allow Holot detention center to stay open beyond December 22, if approved by High Court.

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Thousands of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv during protest against government policy.
Thousands of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv during protest against government policy.Credit: AFP

Despite the dismissals of coalition ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni and their parties’ switch to the opposition, the Knesset still looks set to approve the second and third readings of the new amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law on Monday.

Israeli MK Miri Regev in a Knesset committee discussion.Credit: Michal Fattal

Despite pressure from the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties, Yesh Atid is expected to support the amendment if it is the same as that approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and in its first Knesset reading earlier this week. At least some of Hatnuah’s members are also expected to vote in favor of the new amendment, even though they are no longer bound by coalition discipline. The previous two amendments were rejected by the High Court of Justice.

A majority vote for the law is expected with support from members of Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

The latest amendment states that new asylum seekers will be imprisoned for three months at Saharonim Prison, and then transferred to the Holot detention center. Their term of detention at Holot will be limited to 20 months.

Although the stipulation that the asylum seekers may not work remains in place, they will be required to show up for two roll calls per day instead of three. If asylum seekers are absent from roll call, caught working or violating the conditions of their stay, officials of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority will have the power to transfer them to Saharonim for a duration of up to four months.

According to a ruling last September by the High Court of Justice, if the new law is not approved by December 22, the state will be compelled to close the Holot facility and release the 2,200-plus asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who are being held there.

Interior Minister Gilad Erdan wanted to extend the period of imprisonment in Saharonim and detention in Holot, but eventually opted not to, due to opposition by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the short timetable.

Weinstein said he could not support the law in court if changes were made that further harmed the asylum seekers’ liberty. Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s legal adviser, warned that toughening the law could result in the High Court of Justice overturning it once more.

Still, MK Miri Regev (Likud) – chairwoman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee – has been making efforts over the past few days to gain a majority for extending the period of imprisonment at Saharonim to six months and detention in Holot to two years. Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah told her that his party would support the bill only in its current version, without any revisions.

Regev, fearing that it would not win a majority next Monday, is leaning toward giving up the changes and approving the bill in its current form. However, in the committee discussions she said she had “no intention of approving a toothless law that the attorney general forced on the government.”

Regev told Haaretz on Thursday that although she was still in talks with Yesh Atid, it seemed she would have to submit the amendment without any further changes, even though she had reservations about it. “If I don’t succeed in reaching agreements with Yesh Atid, I will submit the bill as is,” she said.

“Right now, I think the bill is toothless, but I will pass any law if it means Holot is not shut down. The message of shutting Holot down and moving 2,000-something people back to south Tel Aviv is awful. So is the message that you are conveying to the street, and the people who come from overseas – that everything is possible in the State of Israel. So if there is no choice, there will be no changes. As I see it, the law is no good.”

One issue that has yet to be decided is the levying of a deposit that asylum seekers will be able to receive only upon leaving Israel. The bill requires employers of asylum seekers to deduct 20 percent of the employee’s pay for the fund, and another 20 percent at the employer’s expense, even though the employers are legally required to deduct only 11.66 percent from an Israeli employee’s salary at their own expense. The employers said this measure would make it much more expensive to employ asylum seekers.

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