Knesset Meeting on Refugee Law Goes Ahead Despite Only One MK Showing

The bill concerns detention of illegal border infiltrators; attorneys protest the fact that MK Amnon Cohen went ahead with the meeting despite the no-shows.

Only one member of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee attended a committee meeting Wednesday to discuss the bill on infiltrators: chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas ).

Some of the other committee members reportedly told Cohen they could not attend because they were away due to the Knesset recess. Another MK said he had not been informed properly of the meeting. A number of invited experts did attend.

Nevertheless, Cohen conducted the meeting, called in preparation for the bill's second and third readings when the Knesset reconvenes in the fall.

Committee member Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism ) put in a brief appearance but left without saying anything, and MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ), who is not a committee member, did take part in the discussions.

Cohen and Ben Ari discussed more than half of the bill's clauses during the two-hour meeting.

The bill calls for people who cross the border into Israel from Egypt illegally, including asylum-seekers, to be held in detention for up to three years without deporting them. According to the current law, such people may be deported after only 60 days.

Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and attorney Yonatan Berman of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, who both attended the meeting, wrote to Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin protesting the fact that Cohen went ahead with the meeting despite the no-shows.

They said they had the impression that the committee's legal counsel had not yet weighed in on the law, including the clauses relating to detaining asylum-seekers and minors.

The two attorneys wrote Rivlin that a representative of the Justice Ministry at the meeting said the government would entertain amendments to the law in keeping with comments by committee members, but the absence of the members made this impossible.

A committee member yesterday criticized Cohen's decision to hold the meeting during the recess and said he had not received proper notification. However, the lawmaker said he thought Cohen should be commended for keeping his promise to committee members to wait until the Knesset was back in session before holding a vote on the bill.

Cohen wrote Rivlin in response that the committee had been meeting before the recess and would not be taking a break. "MKs and others receive invitations as required. The invited bodies should make their comments," he wrote.