Knesset Legal Adviser Warns Rightist MKs: Don't Toughen Anti-migrant Bill

Hard-liners want longer detention periods for asylum seekers so that they don’t ‘conquer the State of Israel'

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Knesset legal adviser warned Israel's right-wing parties Tuesday that efforts to toughen an asylum-seeker bill could spur the High Court of Justice to overturn such legislation for a third time.

“Generally speaking, the arrangements the government has reached, both regarding custody and the open facility, are much more balanced and proportionate than previous arrangements. They certainly reflect recognition of the Supreme Court’s majority ruling and comments,” Eyal Yinon said at the Knesset Interior Committee’s first hearing on the bill.

Yinon was referring to the so-called open facility in Holot. Based on the current bill, asylum seekers would be allowed to leave and report back only once daily, not three times. Their overall stay would be limited to 20 months.

Detention would be limited to three months at Saharonim Prison, which is also in the Negev in the south.

“Any change made here to this government bill should be very carefully considered,” Yinon added. “The committee members must decide if they're seeking an arrangement that will meet [the criteria] or if we’re heading for a clash with the Supreme Court.”

Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) said she would not let the bill pass in its current form; she wants to extend the detention period at Holot to two years and at Saharonim to eight months.

But Yinon warned that this could get the bill quashed once again. “The length of stay at the open facility is a reasonable one. Extending it to two years would endanger the bill,” he said. About Saharonim he added: “An eight-month period won’t stand the test of the High Court.”

Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said he wanted the detention periods at both places extended, but due to time constraints and the attorney general’s position, he would not take the risk.

“There is the threat that less than three weeks from today, if this bill isn’t published, the government will be compelled to obey the High Court ruling and thousands more illegal migrants will be freed,” he said. “They would only exacerbate the problem in south Tel Aviv, and of course it would be very hard to find them afterwards.”

Regev said the committee’s marathon hearings would continue until Monday; that evening the bill would have its second and third reading in the Knesset. She said she planned to split the bill into an asylum-seeker part and a migrant-worker part, and at this stage only seek approval for the first part. This would be a way to deal with the time constraints.

“The bill that was imposed on the government by the attorney general basically calls on illegal migrants to come to Israel. That will not happen. This law will have teeth,” she said.

“And if it constitutes an incentive for those who are able to return to their countries of origin, let them return, and for those who are able to return to a third country, let them return to a third country. We won’t call on illegal migrants to conquer the State of Israel. Immigration policy will not be set by a judge, but by the Israeli government that was elected by a majority of the Israeli public.”

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber warned that “any significant change to this bill’s basic aspects – in terms of greater stringency regarding the time periods — will not be acceptable to the attorney general, who has told the prime minister and the interior minister that he would not defend this bill.”

MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, criticized the new bill. “We’ve already classified them all as migrant laborers,” she said. “There’s no attempt here to say who is and who isn’t. We’re not dealing with the heart of the issue, which is examining asylum requests.”

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