Israeli MKs Engage in Stormy Debate Over African Asylum Seekers

Israel Police commander tells Knesset committee that increase in violent and sex crimes can be curbed by letting asylum seekers work.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Knesset members engaged in a stormy debate on Monday, following comments by Interior Minister Eli Yishai that Israel should not let African asylum seekers work and that the United Nations is responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) and the committee's chairman, Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) confronted one another on the matter. "They are all infiltrators," said Danon. "We must drive them all out."

To that, Horowitz replied, "You are blabbermouths who shoot from the hips. I am not part of the coalition; you are. Go tell your interior minister that he hasn't done anything for years and now he's making declarations like the last of the blabbermouths. Turn to your defense minister and prime minister. We need a responsible policy here and not shooting from the hips."

At the same meeting, a representative of Israel Police told Knesset members that in order to reduce crime among asylum seekers they need to be incorporated into the workforce.

"We have identified an increase in crime among infiltrators over the past few months," Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Eksel told a Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, which was particularly charged due to the recent series of criminal acts involving asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv. He added that there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of violent and sex crimes.

"We believe these people are committing crimes for survival," he said. "We say that at this stage that employing infiltrators in some form or other will lighten up the situation."

His comments reiterated a recent call by Israeli Police chief to provide migrant workers and asylum seekers with work permits. "We aren't coming from a political perspective, rather from one that is involved with crime," explained Eskel.

Eksel also warned of the danger posed by increasing tension felt by residents of south Tel Aviv toward "infiltrators," saying the "phenomenon is just beginning. If no action is taken, the issue is bound to become graver."

MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) requested that Knesset members support the bill he proposed, which would punish employers of infiltrators and human traffickers with five years imprisonment. Akunis said various Israelis were "under occupation" by infiltrators. "No one in this room is racist. I support the absorption of refugees; I do not support absorbing infiltrators or immigrant workers."

On Sunday, Interior Minister Eli Yishai rejected the call by Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino to provide migrants and asylum seekers with work permits, adding that Israel wasn't responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan.

"Why should be provide them with jobs? I'm sick of the bleeding hearts, including politicians," Yishai told Army Radio.

"Jobs would settle them here, they'll make babies, and that offer will only result in hundreds of thousands more coming over here," Yishai said, reiterating his stance that Israel should "jail or deport all of them with a departing grant. Once they're in jail, they won't want to come over here anymore."

When asked about the danger facing returning migrant workers and asylum seekers in their home countries, the interior minister said: "I'm not responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan, the UN is."

Read this article in Hebrew.

Outgoing MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Israel's only openly gay legislator, April 30, 2012. Credit: Emil Salman



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