64 Leading Businessmen Submit Plan to Netanyahu on How to Solve Asylum Seeker Crisis

Five proposals include resurrecting deal that Netanyahu made with UN in April, and resettling remaining asylum seekers to more well-off communities throughout the country

An African asylum seeker in south Tel Aviv.
Meged Gozani

A group of leading Israeli businessmen has submitted a proposal to the government on how to solve the problem of African asylum seekers living in south Tel Aviv, including a plan to resettle them in well-off communities throughout the country.

The proposal begins by urging the government to resurrect the deal it reached with the United Nations in early April, under which Western countries would take in some 16,250 asylum seekers and Israel would absorb the remainder (about 23,000).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped that deal less than 12 hours after announcing it due to pressure from his political base.

>>Israeli authorities move to deny shade, drink to asylum seekers waiting at government office ■ Israel blocks hundreds of asylum seekers from accessing their bank account

The group then lay down four principles for handling those remaining asylum seekers to be absorbed by Israel.

First, they said, asylum seekers should be dispersed among well-off communities throughout Israel in such a way that their population wouldn’t exceed more than one percent of any community.

Second, industries suffering from a manpower shortage should be encouraged to hire asylum seekers rather than migrant workers, partly by exempting them from employer’s tax on any asylum seeker they hire and granting the asylum seekers long-term work visas.

Third, any barriers that prevent asylum seekers from renting apartments anywhere in Israel should be removed.

Finally, the government should establish a public agency that would work together with south Tel Aviv residents to rehabilitate their run-down neighborhoods.

“In recent months, discussion of the refugee issue has regrettably turned into a debate between political camps,” the proposal said. “The assumption underlying this argument is that the welfare of residents of south Tel Aviv depends on deporting the refugees and treating them cruelly.

“In our view, this assumption is mistaken!” the proposal continued. “It’s possible to find a rational, economic and humane solution to the refugee issue and use this solution as a lever for the complete rehabilitation of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.

“We urge that the debate over the future of the asylum seekers be removed from the political playing field, and that this issue be examined in a professional manner whose goal is to solve the problem in a way that benefits the economy as a whole and all Israelis,” it added.

The 64 signatories included Yossi Kucik, chairman of the Zur Shamir group and a former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office; Ilan Cohen, an entrepreneur who also formerly served as director general of the PMO; Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association; Avner Stepak, co-owner of the Meitav Dash investment house; and Amnon Neubach, chairman of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

The businessmen estimate that it will take three years to disperse and integrate the asylum seekers, and five years to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv. They expect their plan to cost about 220 million shekels ($62 million) a year, but say its economic benefits will outweigh the costs.

Their proposal cited estimates by the Ruppin Academic Center’s Institute for Immigration and Social Integration that employing 25,000 asylum seekers in industries that are currently suffering labor shortages would increase those industries’ gross domestic product by 3.3 billion shekels a year. It would also increase the state’s income tax revenues by 159 million shekels and the National Insurance Institute’s income by 110 million shekels. Moreover, these estimates say, hospitals’ unrecoverable debts would fall by about 10 million shekels.

This plan will be good for both residents of south Tel Aviv and the economy, the businessmen argued, while also “fulfilling our human obligation toward the refugees.”