Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Defends IDF Soldiers for Volunteering With Migrants

Asaf Zamir chides Lieberman and says asylum seekers 'not going anywhere' defending city's policy look after well-being of all residents.

Migrant workers and asylum seekers shop at south Tel Aviv's Hatikva market, August 11, 2015.
Moti Milrod

In a Facebook post about the large number of foreign asylum seekers and labor migrants who have settled in south Tel Aviv, Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Asaf Zamir said they are here “permanently” and should be related to accordingly.

In his post, which appeared on Monday, he took Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman to task for recently issuing an order barring Israel Defense Force soldiers from volunteering at kindergartens serving foreign migrant children. It is the policy of Tel Aviv city hall, he wrote, to look after the well-being of all of the city’s residents regardless of their legal status. Zamir called on members of the public to volunteer at the kindergartens.

Little has been done so far to curb soldiers’ volunteer activities with asylum seekers, practically speaking, but Lieberman based his order on the fact that “it involves activities with a population that isn’t residing here lawfully.”

Most of the asylum seekers are from East Africa, notably Sudan and Eritrea, and have entered the country illegally from Egypt. Many have sought asylum in Israel but the processing of their applications has been slow and almost none have been granted the status.

Zamir said he is in favor of handling asylum requests and deporting those asylum seekers who are found not to have a case, but added: “It will soon be ten years since this issue started and nothing is moving.”

“We have long understood something that those in the cabinet are afraid to acknowledge, that nearly all of the migrants and refugees in the south of the city are here to stay. Permanently. Yes, yes, I know that for some of you that’s hard to hear, but that’s the reality as I perceive it,” said Zamir who heads the Tzeirim faction on city council, which holds the education portfolio. Zamir is a close associate of the city's mayor, Ron Huldai.

“All of the politicians who come to the southern neighborhoods and promise the residents that all of them are just about to be expelled back to their countries or to third countries, or the moon, are pulling the wool over your eyes,” Zamir wrote. “They’re afraid to admit that they have failed to create an immigration policy, that they have failed in enforcing an immigration policy.”

The government built a border fence in an effort to stop migrants from coming over the border and built two detention centers for illegal migrants in the south.

Zamir was critical of official policies that make it difficult for the asylum seekers. “They’re not going anywhere, so let’s channel our energies into absorbing these people, at least temporarily,” he wrote.

Seeking to counter the complaints of longtime south Tel Aviv residents who say that providing services to the migrants only encourages them to stay, Zamir claimed that there is no practical way to disperse the migrants around the country or around Tel Aviv. “To the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t happened in any country around the world,” he wrote.