Yamina, the hard-right alliance headed by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, has officially espoused the anti-immigrant agenda of a group of south Tel Aviv activists, agreeing to make their entry into government conditional on tougher legislation, Haaretz has learned. (For the latest election polls – click here)
The party, which the latest polls have coming fourth in the upcoming elections with a sizable 10 Knesset seats, is in the final stages of drafting an agreement with the South Tel Aviv Liberation Front that will formally set out a plan to strip migrants without formal status of their residency in Israel.
Yamina suspects that Likud is attempting to woo its own voters among Israel's national-religious right, but still has a shot at entering a Netanyahu-led government if things go their way on September 17. The prime minister himself has campaigned heavily on the issue in the past, even giving a Knesset seat on the Likud slate to far-right south Tel Aviv activist May Golan in the April election.
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In the agreement, which Ayelet Shaked said would be released at 5 P.M. on Thursday, Yamina commits itself and its future coalition partners to amend the Entry to Israel law to make it impossible to grant residency status to asylum seekers or migrant workers without the appropriate visa.
As the document itself states, the aim is to block the settlement in Israel of “infiltrators and illegal aliens other than by the express decision of elected officials."
Israel has a next-to-nil record on granting asylum requests, and hundreds of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan live under a temporary, precarious status, granted on an individual basis by the cabinet, the Population and Immigration Authority, or sometimes by Israel's court system.
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The proposed amendment would simultaneously seek to enshrine into law tougher immigration regulations, and make recourse administratively difficult. There is a provision for granting residency to asylum seekers in exceptional cases, but it relies on approval from both the interior minister and another member of the cabinet specially appointed by the prime minister.
This clearly disqualifies anyone who was smuggled or crossed illegally into Israel, or any migrant workers whose visa prohibits them from having children in Israel, a hot issue this month after the Israeli government started deporting foreign workers and their Israeli-born children.
Children of migrants awaiting deportation would be sent to segregated schools and pre-schools, which the agreement commits to fund. The institutions would be “similar to international and diplomatic schools,” the document says, with classes taught in English, or in the migrants' mother tongue.
The South Tel Aviv Liberation Front, headed by Sheffi Paz, a former member of far-left Meretz and prominent lesbian activist, is militantly fighting for total deportation, but essentially started as a group fighting what they see as an 'invasion' of their neighborhood.
Migrants, who have congregated in the poorer area around the central bus station in the south of Israel's biggest city, "invaded my home uninvited, damaged my lifestyle and quality of life, insulted me and committed crimes against me," Paz told Haaretz in 2016. The agreement promises to implement an existing government resolution to finance the rehabilitation of the neighborhood, adding 20 million shekels ($5.64 million) for a legal clinic for local (Israeli) residents.
Ayelet Shaked, a popular far-right figure, has fought hard to reform Israel's judiciary and weaken its power in favor of parliament. The agreement, which she negotiated directly, will see the creation of a new immigration tribunal, as part of a drive to “to propose a basic law on immigration within a year of the government’s establishment.”
Defendants in the new instance would not qualify for appeal at the regular District Court, or at a separate appeals court, as has been the case since 2014 - a serious blow to asylum seekers living in Israel. After publication of this story in the Hebrew version of Haaretz, Yamina reached out to clarify that decisions could still be challenged, but only by petitioning the High Court.
New legislation and regulations would see the creation of an economic and employment plan, which would be an indispensable condition for continuing the policy of non-enforcement against working illegal aliens and asylum seekers whose requests for residency status are still being processed. Under this plan, the Deposit Law, under which 20 percent of an asylum seeker's wages are withheld to be returned to them only after they leave the country, will be broadened to include other foreign workers that have unregulated status. NGOs have previously warned the law was widely abused by employers.
The taxes collected from this levy would be used “to strengthen the activity of the Population and Immigration Authority as well to finance the deportation of infiltrators to their countries or origin and to third countries,” the document says.
The government will also commit not to sign any agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that will include “the absorption of illegal infiltrators by Israel.” In April 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed such an agreement with the intergovernmental organization, but cancelled it a day later under pressure from Paz and other residents of south Tel Aviv.