Bill to Punish Employers of African Migrants Shot Down by Yesh Atid

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African migrant workers at the old central bus station in Tel Aviv.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A bill allowing employers of illegal migrants to be sentenced to up to five years in jail was frozen on Tuesday after the Yesh Atid party unexpectedly opposed it.

The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee was slated to approve the bill Tuesday. But once committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) realized that the Yesh Atid MKs planned to vote against it, she also realized that she lacked enough votes to pass it and began a round of negotiations.

Eventually, she managed to put together a 7-4 majority for the bill, inter alia thanks to support from Hatnuah MK David Tsur and coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud). The latter isn’t a member of the committee, but agreed to come and vote in place of Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, who didn’t show up.

Nevertheless, rattled by the opposition from coalition member Yesh Atid, Regev promised not to bring the bill to a vote in the plenum “until we sit and reach an agreement within the coalition.”

The bill was cosponsored by Regev and fellow Likud MK Ofir Akunis during the last Knesset, but elections were called while it was still only partway through the legislative process.

The Yesh Atid MKs said their party was working on an alternative bill to deal with the problem of asylum seekers who enter the country illegally.

MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid) charged that barring employers from hiring asylum seekers would violate a High Court of Justice ruling “that allows the infiltrators to work for a living,” and would also “cause the infiltrators to remain in south Tel Aviv and work illegally. The state should reduce its quota of [legal] foreign workers and give the infiltrators the ability to work in specific fields in locales determined by the state.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said the police commissioner, public security minister and attorney general all oppose the bill, because “they understand very well what it would mean for tens of thousands of infiltrators to be wandering around in the streets when they can’t work.”

One opponent of the bill lambasted Tsur for voting in favor, saying his vote contradicted the promise by Hatnuah leader and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni that “she was staying in the coalition to defend democracy.”

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