What's the Link Between the Attorney General's Wife and the Defense Minister's Wife?

Yehuda Weinstein appears to have employed a foreign worker in his house to do housework, even though his permit was limited to nursing care.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who just two months ago announced that he planned to indict Defense Minister Ehud Barak's wife for illegally employing a foreign worker, appears to have been guilty of exactly the same offense himself.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein at yesterday’s Bar Association conference in Eilat.
Rimon Cohen

In the case of Barak's wife, Nili Priell, the worker had been employed as a housekeeper, but her permit to work in Israel was solely for the purpose of working in home nursing care. It is illegal to employ a foreign worker for a purpose other than that specified in his permit.

It is also illegal to hire any foreign worker unless the employer has a permit to do so. But permits to employ foreign workers are given only in certain fields: construction, agriculture, certain industries, ethnic restaurants and home nursing care. Foreign workers cannot get permits to work as housekeepers, and Israelis cannot get permits to employ foreign workers as housekeepers.

Yet it appears that the foreign worker employed in the Weinstein house in Herzliya Pituah was also engaged to do housework, even though his permit, too, was limited to nursing care.

Asked by Haaretz, a Justice Ministry spokesman said merely: "A worker of Indian origin was indeed employed in the Weinstein house in the past. The worker's employment ended in 2009, before Weinstein was appointed attorney general. At the time she hired him, Mrs. Weinstein checked and found that he was a legal worker who was in Israel legally. Beyond that, she did not seek any additional permit."

But people close to the worker said he spent a full year working once a week for the Weinsteins, and left only when he realized his employer had a senior government post, which could result in heightened scrutiny. That contradicts the ministry's statement that he was fired several months before Weinstein became attorney general. Before that, Weinstein was a private defense attorney.

The worker, the sources added, said the Weinsteins treated him very generously.

About the same time as a manhunt was taking place, on Weinstein's orders, to find a woman named Virginia so she could testify against against her former employer, Priell, a general crackdown on the illegal employment of foreign workers as housekeepers was launched by Oz, the Interior Ministry unit responsible for enforcing the laws regarding foreign workers. In the course of this campaign, the names of several celebrities caught employing illegal foreign workers were leaked to the media.

Usually, Oz raids houses in response to tips. Thus, had any of Weinstein's neighbors informed on him, he could easily have found his own name leaked to the media as the target of an Oz raid. That could well have prevented him from becoming attorney general, on the theory that the man in charge of enforcing the country's laws must be someone who himself scrupulously obeys them.

Yet, in truth, tens of thousands of Israelis violate this particular law every day, for a variety of reasons: lack of knowledge of the law, a scarcity of Israelis willing to do housework and a belief that no one is hurt if they employ a foreign worker to clean their home from time to time.

What this story really shows is not that Weinstein is a criminal, but the authorities are utterly hypocritical on this issue. On one hand, they hunt down and deport illegal foreign workers, while on the other, they permit the entry of thousands more. On one hand, they launch high-profile media campaigns against foreign workers and, on the other hand, they give out permits to employ them to friends and cronies.

And, on one hand, they conduct a manhunt for Virginia, while on the other they employ a foreign worker as weekly cleaning help themselves.

Instead of hunting down foreign workers, it would be better to go after employers who abuse and exploit them, or labor contractors who grease the wheels of their profitable business - bringing in a constant flow of new workers to replace the deported "illegals" - with generous benefits to those in power. Workers who simply want to earn another few hundred shekels, and aren't doing anyone any harm, should be left alone. And so should Priell and Weinstein.