Israel Tries to Remove Judge Ruling on Relationship Between Foreign Workers Because His Partner Is a Foreigner

Immigration Authority seeking to recuse judge presiding over hearing concerning a couple of migrant workers, citing a conflict of interests

Lee Yaron
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Administrative Law Judge Mart Dorfman.
Administrative Law Judge Mart Dorfman.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Lee Yaron

Israel's Immigration Authority wants to remove a judge from an appeals tribunal slated to announce a ruling on a ban on foreign workers forming romantic relationships, citing his relationship with a foreign citizen.

The Immigration Authority requested that Judge Marat Dorfman be recused from his post in an upcoming hearing on a case concerning a migrant worker couple who arrived in Israel legally and wish to stay and work in the country, despite their relationship.

Dorfman serves as an administrative law judge at the Jerusalem appellate tribunal, a Justice Ministry court that deals with residency and immigration issues.

The authority’s request comes a day after Dorfman heard an appeal against Israel’s policy to ban the migrant worker couple from staying in Israel at the same time, justified by the state as “encouraging the workers to settle down.”

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Haaretz reported on Wednesday that the authority has toughened its stand toward migrant workers who form couple relationships. Until now, when the authority learned of such a relationship it insisted that one partner leave Israel as a condition for extending the other’s visa, but apparently backed down every time an appeal was filed against this demand.

Since Dorfman’s partner, a foreign citizen, is currently in the process of legalizing her residency in Israel, the judge has signed a conflict-of-interest agreement, according to which he would not rule on cases pertaining to foreigners who want to obtain permanent status in Israel and whose partners are Israeli citizens.

The immigration authority is attempting to replace Dorfman with another judge, claiming a conflict of interest even though the agreement he signed is unrelated to this case, which has to do with extending the visas of migrant workers who are in a relationship with other migrant workers.

The migrant worker whose case Judge Marat Dorfman is ruling on with her daughter, August 2018.
The migrant worker whose case Judge Marat Dorfman is ruling on with her daughter, August 2018.Credit: Meged Gozani

Unlike the process of formalizing the status of a foreign citizen who is in a relationship with an Israeli, the process under discussion in the hearing does not include proof of relationship to ensure it is not fictitious nor does it have to do with the question of granting citizenship; this case only revolves around the question of residency and work permits.

Dorfman is considered a judge who is often critical of the Interior Ministry.

In March, he slammed the authority for taking more than a year to process asylum requests, referring specifically to five residents of Sudan’s Darfur region. In October, he overruled a decision to prevent the entry into Israel of Dr. Isabel Phiri, the deputy secretary general of the World Council of Churches, because of her activism on behalf of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. 

In his ruling, Dorfman said that the anti-BDS legislation could not be applied retroactively to bar a BDS activist from visiting Israel and that the reasoning provided to her at that time, involving concern over “illegal immigration,” was without foundation.

Earlier, in September 2017, Dorfman criticized a decision to send an asylum seeker suspected of committing crimes to jail without a trial.

Meytal Russo, an attorney with the worker’s rights organization Kav La’Oved who is representing the couple in the appeal said that as a rule, a request for recusal must be raised at the first opportunity, while this appeal has been ongoing since August.

Since early August, according to Russo, “the immigration authority has dragged its feet in providing any response. Now, when the judge has begun writing his ruling, the authority’s legal advisers have remembered to ask to recuse the judge using a problematic justification, to say the least. We can only assume that external considerations guided the authority in this request,” she said.