Children as Hostages

It is impossible to accept the government's obsequiousness in the face of pressure from Shas.

The ad hoc ministerial committee on deporting foreign workers, which is chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided on Monday to once again postpone the deportation of some 1,200 children of foreign workers - which was originally scheduled to take place in another two weeks - and allow them to finish out the current school year. But when the school year ends, Israel intends to deport them back to their parents' countries of origin.

This is a cruel decision. It means holding the sword of deportation for months over the heads of hundreds of children who were born in Israel, and for whom Hebrew is often their only language and Israel their only country. In effect, the panel decided to "give" them another year - to hold them here as hostages - and then, in the end, to send them shamefacedly away. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has emerged as the most extreme nationalist and xenophobe in the cabinet, was quick to boast and threaten that the children "have bought time, not [legal] status. If the prime minister wants to give them status, let him take the Immigration Authority away from the Interior Ministry."

It is impossible to accept the government's obsequiousness in the face of pressure from Shas. And it is assuredly impossible to agree that these children's fate should be determined by a party that advocates a closed-off, nationalist Israel. Admittedly, the Prime Minister's Office did say that the decision is not final, and there will be further discussions of the children's fate in the coming days. But experience teaches that the prime minister is liable to give in to his ultra-Orthodox partner on this issue - a deeply important matter of ethics and principle - just as he has on other issues.

Israel could easily absorb another 1,200 Israeli children of foreign origin. It will have much greater trouble absorbing another immoral, inhumane decision such as the decision to deport them at the end of the school year. Cabinet ministers ought to decide in favor of allowing these children to remain permanently in Israel, either as citizens or as permanent residents, in the context of a one-time amnesty deal. They will only add to Israel's fascinating cultural and social mosaic. And deporting them to countries with which they have almost no connection is nothing less than iniquitous.

A country that was founded by the children of refugees and migrants is obligated to show an extra degree of sensitivity - especially when it comes to children. The prime minister must immediately put a stop to the abuse of these children and ensure that they can remain in this country permanently and unconditionally.