Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, February 2018. Olivier Fitoussi

On the Line With Israel's 'Deporter-in-chief': 'As a Doctor, I Can Look at It From the Human Side'

Shlomo Mor-Yosef of the population authority talks to Haaretz about the country's deportation of asylum seekers back to Africa

Hello Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority. How are you?

Hi, good evening. If you have a cigarette and a cup of coffee, we can get started.

First, I’d like to compliment you and tell you that the way you referred me to a spokeswoman when I contacted you was really very nice. Sometimes people refer me to a spokesperson just to avoid an interview here. With you it was different. And Sabine the spokeswoman was very nice.

I’m glad to hear that.

If I understand correctly, the deportation or removal of Africans from Israel is based on a declaration by the Israeli government to the High Court of Justice that says there’s an agreement with the Eritrean government to take in the deportees.

You’re confused. You said the Eritrean government. That’s not what you meant

Right. Rwanda, of course. Anyway, after Israel makes this announcement, a tweet appears on the official Twitter account of the Rwandan government saying that no such agreement exists. The question is – is there such an agreement, and have you seen it?

The Israeli government didn’t make a declaration to the High Court. The Israeli government showed the agreement to the Supreme Court. There has been a discussion about the agreement being secret, and whether that’s okay or not okay, and the conclusion is that, despite the inconvenience, a secret agreement is okay.

In the ruling’s table of contents, under H2A, it says: “Agreements for Removal to a Third Country.” H2B says: “Secrecy of the Agreement.” And H2C says: “Contents of the Agreement and Standards as per International Law.” In other words, there’s no question whether there’s an agreement. The court, which I deeply respect, saw the agreement. So there’s an agreement.

If I were a potential candidate for deportation, I wouldn’t rely solely on the institutions of the deporting country that says there’s an agreement. I would also note that the receiving country says “there’s no agreement.” I, as a refugee or infiltrator or whatever, would want to know that the country receiving me will allow me to work.

A situation in which the receiving country publicly maintains that there’s no agreement to take me in could lead to a situation in which I start to work there, and then some immigration inspector comes and tells me I can’t. What am I, the refugee, going to tell him? That in Israel they said that it was okay?

It doesn’t work that way. When you arrive in the country the first thing you’re supposed to receive are documents. And the agreement specifies just which documents anyone who goes there will receive. These documents are what let you work there and be there. That’s what’s written in the agreement. I can’t comment on what another country says.

Have you seen the agreement? You’re telling me what’s written in it. So you’ve seen it then?

The parts that are relevant for me I’ve seen.

Did you see the signature of an authorized representative of the receiving country’s government?

There are some things that are secret, so I can’t comment.

I only asked about a signature.

I know what you’re asking. I don’t want to answer. I’m not commenting on the agreement.

You’re operating on the basis of the agreement. You’re known as an honest person of integrity. You’re operating on the assumption that there’s a place that’s willing to take them.

I know that for certain.

Without seeing the entire agreement, and without seeing that it’s signed?

I don’t want to comment. Don’t press me. You could use up the whole page.

If Rwanda is a safe country, in the legal sense ...

I won’t comment on any country by name. Call it a third country and I’ll answer you.

If the third country is safe, why are you discriminating against the men? You’ve said you’d deport a 30-year-old single man but not a 30-year-old single woman? What’s the problem with deporting women there?

The Israeli government came up with this distinction out of consideration for the overall situation of people who’ve been here eight years. Women who are on their own – it will be much more difficult and complicated for them to manage alone in an unfamiliar African country than it would be for men of working age. Calling it discrimination is pure provocation – taking something positive and turning it into something negative.

I see that it’s positive, but it still raises questions. If I were a single 30-year-old male slated for deportation, I’d petition the High Court on the grounds of discrimination.

Fine. No one is stopping you from doing that.

There was a report about a petition drive by doctors calling for your medical license to be revoked.

I haven’t seen such a petition.

That was the report. And then I heard you tell Channel 2 that, as a doctor, you bring something extra to the job – medical compassion and so on. Did I understand that right?

With any job, I see what I can bring to it. This wasn’t a career move. I’m 66 and not on the lookout for another position. I think the fact that I bring all the values by which I’ve worked in the public health system for nearly 40 years; I look at how to soften this trauma for people for whom this is difficult. As a doctor, I can look at it from the human side.

No offense intended, but that sounds a lot like a veterinarian who learned how to save animals, how to heal them and ease their pain, and then takes a job as a city vet who checks that the dead animals, i.e., the meat for restaurants, or the animals that are still living, will be transported in the right way and at the right temperature. As a doctor, in this job you’re not helping people, you’re transporting them to the unknown.

At each point in time, you look at the individual and you look at the collective. You may be helping a lot of people while sometimes hurting certain individuals, and you try to minimize the suffering. This tension is a constant thing in public systems. At this point in time, I’m using all my capabilities.

Thank you for the candid conversation.

Good night.  

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