AG Warned Israel New Asylum Seekers Bill Won't Withstand Legal Scrutiny

Interior Ministry ignored Yehuda Weinstein's warnings, which include problematic clauses in draft bill.

Tomer Appelbaum

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has warned government officials that parts of the latest amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law dealing with asylum seekers are liable to be struck down by the High Court of Justice yet again, which would be the fourth time.

Haaretz has learned that Weinstein, during discussions on the new version of the amendment, had opposed several clauses, saying they would not withstand a legal challenge. The problematic clauses deal with the maximum length of detention at the Holot holding facility; the populations that can be summoned there and the punishments to be inflicted on those who don’t report there. 

Despite the warnings by Weinstein and his subordinates, the Interior Ministry insisted on included these clauses in the draft bill, which was released on Sunday for public comment.

Weinstein’s primary objections were to the clauses relating to the maximum stay at Holot. The High Court of Justice in August called on the government to significantly reduce the length of time asylum seekers are held in Holot and temporarily limited their detention there for a year. The draft bill says that asylum seekers currently in Israel can be sent to Holot for a year, but that this could be extended to 18 months “for special reasons.” New asylum seekers who enter Israel after the amendment goes into effect could be held in Holot for 18 months. 

During the debates on the amendment, Weinstein recommended limiting the detention of asylum seekers in Israel to a year, while those who would cross into Israel in the future should be held for 15 months at the most.

Weinstein also warned that it would be difficult to defend the cancellation of the clause that forbids detaining fathers with dependent children at Holot. He had recommended to leave the exceptions as is, with six groups excluded from possible detention at Holot: Minors, women, men 60 and above, those whose health would be harmed, victims of human trafficking, and fathers of minors. 

Weinstein also objected to intensifying the punishments that Population, Immigration and Border Authority officials could impose on asylum seekers for not responding to summonses to Holot or from leaving without permission. The punishments – incarceration in the Saharonim prison -- are graduated, based on the length of absence, and the draft bill extends all of them by a month, making the minimum incarceration at Saharonim two months and the maximum five months. Weinstein warned that even the punishments currently allowed are legally borderline and it would be hard to defend longer jail terms.

The Justice Ministry did not object to the clause that disallows a temporary restraining order against a summons to Holot. Weinstein and his people saw no impediment to including this clause, since the denial of freedom at Holot is not absolute (residents can enter and leave during the day), making it possible to conduct legal proceedings even when detained there. Currently one can appeal a summons to Holot in a special appeals court, and in many cases the court has delayed the sending of a person to Holot until the end of his legal proceedings or has cancelled a summons issued illegally. 

Weinstein had approved the three earlier amendments to the Anti-Infiltration Law that were totally or partially struck down by the High Court of Justice. During discussions of the previous version a year ago, Weinstein refused to allow detention in Holot for as long as two years, demanding that a year be the maximum. IN the end, he compromised at 20 months, which was struck down by the court in August.