Bar-On's Legacy: Humane Policy, but Only Within Green Line

Roni Bar-On began his term as interior minister by declaring a move to naturalize the children of foreign workers, one of the most significant and humane acts of the Olmert government. He ended it with a decision to deport African refugees. The gap between the two decisions is a good reflection of the policy Bar-On charted during his 14 months in office: the ministry was humane to non-Jews as long as they were not numerous.

Bar-On was also amazingly lenient with immigrants, but kept an almost total freeze on the matter of reunification of Palestinian families. It is doubtful there was ever another interior minister who did so much for immigrants from Russia. Thus it can be said that Bar-On was very humane, but only within the Green Line.

Bar-On explained his policy two weeks ago as the naturalization operation ended: "It is inconceivable for us to deport children who have no other culture, no other language. They take part in the Zionist vision and want to be drafted."

If the Population Administration treats foreigners with stringent pettiness, Bar-On instituted the opposite policy. When children were unable to be naturalized because they were a few months younger than the six years of age decided on, Bar-On lowered the age to four years and nine months.

Bar-On solved two main problems stemming from the fact that the Law of Return allowed non-Jewish spouses the right to immigrate to Israel, but did not allow them to bring their families: immigrants who brought their sick parents with them, but the parents were not entitled to health insurance, and couples who brought children to Israel from previous marriages, but the children had no legal status and were at risk of deportation when they grew up. On the first matter, Bar-On decided that such parents would receive the status of resident after two years instead of four. And on the second, he established that such children would receive resident status up to the age of 15.

Bar-On was not the first interior minister to institute greater leniency in the Population Administration, but he was the first to succeed. Apparently one secret of his power was his right-wing and aggressive image. There are things that Roni Bar-On can do much more easily than, for example, MK Avraham Poraz of Shinui.

Bar-On believed in solving problems by changing procedures rather than laws. The problem with procedures is that one minister can write them, and the next minister can change them.

The Population Administration has also found ways to ignore such changes after the minister has left office. One test of the new minister will be protecting all of Bar-On's achievements. What Bar-On did not do and apparently did not attempt, was to set an immigration policy for Israel. It is possible that setting such a policy, like getting a constitution passed, is mission impossible. On the other hand, so far, no one has tried.