Asylum Seekers Ruling Is a Black Mark Against Outgoing Minister Sa’ar

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Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar - self-proclaimed democrat.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Since announcing his departure from political life last week, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, along with his associates, have been busy summing up his years of activity, generally in a positive fashion. But the High Court of Justice, which accepted a petition by several human rights organizations on Monday, offered a slightly different verdict.

“Disproportionate infringement on the rights to freedom and dignity,” “violates part of the minimum dignified life to which every person is entitled” and “violates human rights in an essential, deep and fundamental way” are among the phrases it used to describe a law whose passage was pushed by Sa’ar.

The ruling stamps a big black mark on Sa’ar’s tenure as interior minister. It’s no wonder that shortly after the ruling was issued, he was already proposing that the Knesset “consider limiting the High Court’s authority.”

Amendment 4 to the Law for the Prevention of Infiltration was voted into law on December 10, 2013, on international Human Rights Day. The law’s very essence violated both the spirit of this day and a High Court ruling three months earlier that overturned the law’s Amendment 3.

But that ruling didn’t change anything for Sa’ar. Instead, the self-proclaimed democrat searched with all his might for a way to circumvent it.

“There are many opinions in the world, there are many people in the world, and there are many jurists in the world,” he said at one Knesset Interior and Environment Committee session on the proposed amendment. “Law isn’t anything like math, and they are entitled to think differently.”

But if Sa’ar was contemptuous toward the justices, he was downright inflammatory toward his opponents, political and otherwise.

“You object to all means and all laws relating to the issue of the infiltrators,” he accused them during one Knesset debate on the amendment. “You aspire to a state of all its infiltrators... This law serves the interests of the state and its citizens. You said the law is embarrassing; not only aren’t we embarrassed by it, we would have been embarrassed and ashamed had we demonstrated weakness in preserving the only state we have.”

It’s a pity Sa’ar never realized that preserving the state means, among other things, obeying High Court rulings instead of trying to circumvent them. But it’s not too late. We can still hope this is one of the lessons Sa’ar will teach the new baby son he cited last week as one of the reasons for his retirement from political life.

Sa’ar’s attempt to enact an unconstitutional law was blocked by the High Court, and his arrogance suffered a slight dent. But it seems the justices also sought to teach an additional lesson that is no less significant: not only that asylum seekers are people too, but that “nobody disputes that the state of affairs in south Tel Aviv,” where the majority of asylum seekers live, “is difficult and requires attention,” as Justice Uzi Vogelman wrote for the majority.

“The distress of residents of south Tel Aviv is not a decree of fate,” the ruling said. “It’s in the hands of the legislative and executive branches.”

Any solution to this problem must include giving serious consideration to all applications for asylum, granting those who can’t return to their own countries an opportunity to work legally (and thereby encouraging them to disperse to different cities), and providing them with health care, education and welfare services.

In addition, the government must offer substantial support to areas that have had high concentrations of asylum seekers — and of Israeli opponents to illegal migration.

The High Court of Justice has presented the government with a new challenge: Instead of inciting these two groups against each other, it must improve the situation of both.

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