MKs Refuse to Let Miri Regev Handle Asylum Seekers Issue

Lawmakers quarrel over which Knesset committee should be responsible for 'infiltrators'.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset House Committee had to conduct a parliamentary “Judgment of Solomon” Tuesday: It rejected MK Shimon Ohayon’s (Yisrael Beitenu) demand that committee members prevent the Foreign Workers Committee headed by MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) from handling the problems of asylum seekers. Instead, Ohayon demanded that the complete handling of “infiltrators” be placed in the hands of MK Miri Regev, chairwoman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

Regev herself turned to the Knesset legal adviser a few months ago claiming that Rosin’s committee “is deviating from its areas of authority and is trespassing the boundary of the Interior and Environment Committee.”

Regev said that “the infiltrators are not defined as foreign workers, even if some MKs and parts of the population believe so.” Rosin, on the other hand, cited the law that states that a migrant worker is anyone who is not an Israeli citizen or resident – in other words, including the tens of thousands of asylum seekers.

This is a professional conflict, but a political one as well: While Regev is conducting a tough belligerent policy, Rosin does not spare criticism of the government’s conduct in its handling of the asylum seekers.

Tuesday’s discussion was charged. MK Ohayon explained his request, saying, “I attend the committee meetings, surrounded by non-profit organizations that help people who have violated the law, and I feel that the country is no longer mine.”

MK Ilan Gilon, the chair of the Meretz faction, replied, “What’s your problem? Your interest is solely political, in order to make headlines. Do you want to transfer the discussion to the chair of the interior committee, who called them a ‘cancer’? Then why not transfer it to the Health Committee?”

The rejection of Ohayon’s request to restrict the powers of the Foreign Workers’ Committee headed by Rosin followed a similar request by Regev that was rejected last July.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), who headed the committee during the previous term, explained that the committee has always discussed the issue of asylum seekers. “I was chair of the committee before Michal, and before me there was Ketzeleh [National Union MK Yaakov Katz]. With Ketzeleh most of the discussions were about the infiltrators. Week after week he held discussions about the fence, he took it on as a personal project. This committee has always been the forum for such a discussion. Shimon, you have to withdraw your request.”

House Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) decided to postpone the request and not hold a vote on the subject. According to Hanegbi, “It’s very difficult to distinguish between the subjects of the committees. As I’ve learned here, the tradition is, from the start of the committee’s tenure, long before Michal arrived, the committee already received the task of dealing with these topics. Basically, logical arguments were heard. We will try to see if it’s possible to reach an understanding and to include it in the more general discussion on the subject in the plenum, in an attempt to redraw guidelines between the Knesset committees. There’s no point in holding a vote.”

After the discussion Rosin said that the entire move stemmed from political motives. “It’s inconceivable that whatever doesn’t suit the extreme right in the Knesset is silenced. The Foreign Workers’ Committee has always – even when Ketzeleh served as the committee chairman - dealt with all the workers in Israel who aren’t citizens or residents, including asylum seekers. It’s easier to shut people up than to admit that the government has no real solutions for asylum seekers in Israel.”

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

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