Right-wing Israeli Lawmaker Blasts Bill That Would Override High Court Rulings on Asylum Seekers

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Likud MK Benny Begin.
Likud MK Benny Begin.Credit: Emil Salman

In a scathing Facebook post, Likud Knesset member Benny Begin attacked the government coalition’s plans to pass a law that would override rulings by the High Court of Justice on the status of asylum seekers in Israel and reinstate provisions of legislation that the court invalidated.

The new bill, which will be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for its approval on Sunday, would amend the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. Basic laws have the status of constitutional provisions.

Begin, whose Likud party leads the coalition, warned on Wednesday that the bill would do serious damage to the country’s values. “Its passage would demonstrate publicly that infiltrators are considered to be people of a different kind, so to speak, in Israel. They are so different that their human rights are in no way accorded protection from serious violations. They are not like other human beings to whom, even if they are law-breakers, the Basic Law provides protective cover from unjustified violation of fundamental rights, which they, like all human beings have, as decided by the Knesset.”

Section 8 of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty currently states that the rights protected in the Basic Law can only be infringed on through proportionate legislation that furthers an appropriate purpose and that is in keeping with the country’s values. The proposed bill on migrants in Israel states that it will apply even if it violates section 8 and that the Knesset could again pass legislation on the subject that has been struck down by the High Court, provided the legislation is supported by an absolute majority of 61 of the 120 Knesset members. Any law that is reinstated by the Knesset would be in force for no more than four years.

In April the High Court froze a plan to deport asylum seekers that was initiated in March by the government. The High Court ruled that Israel did not have an arrangement in place that would allow forced deportation of these individuals to Uganda, which at the time was called “a safe third country.” As a result, the government announced that it was unable to carry out its plan.

Subsequently, the government announced that it had reached an agreement according to which 16,000 asylum seekers would remain in Israel, and another 16,000 would leave and be absorbed in Western countries such as Canada, Germany and Italy. About a day later, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that this scheme too had been frozen.

In the face of coalition support for the bill, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has now issued a legal opinion opposing the bill and saying that if the Knesset were to relegislate the provisions of the Prevention of Infiltration Law that were struck down by the court, it would “violate the most basic right of the infiltrators.” Writing to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Mendelblit said the bill would do damage to Israel’s constitutional system as a Jewish and democratic state and to the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches.

“Where there is no protection of human rights, it means that any violation is permissible. This could constitute a precedent for the creation of other ‘black holes,’ which is both dangerous and mistaken from a democratic constitutional and governmental standpoint,” Mendelblit wrote.

“It’s difficult to understand how such an extreme bill hadn’t been stopped before landing before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation,” Begin wrote in his Facebook post, “and how the ministers would in any way think of debating such a legislative adventure that would lead down a steep and dangerous slope.” Approval by the committee indicates the coalition’s backing for legislation. Because the coalition has a majority in the Knesset, that generally ensures the passage of legislation in some form.

In the past, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the head of Kulanu, one of the coalition parties, had generally opposed legislation that would override rulings by the High Court, but he has expressed support in principle for this more limited bill, and has been quoted as saying it will not harm the court. Knesset members from Kulanu said last week that they would support the bill but may ask for changes in its wording before final passage by the Knesset. They did not respond when Haaretz asked if they have changed their stance as a result of Mendelblit’s legal opinion.

Begin, the son of late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, said it was essential that the bill be stopped before coming before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next week. “Even if its passage results in the removal of thousands of infiltrators from Israel, the stench of the law would remain here with us.”

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