Journalists are bound to report the truth, even when it is unpleasant to some readers. The truth in this case is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai have won the battle against African migrant workers.
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Various NGOs and human rights activists waged a fierce fight against their policies. They mobilized to help these workers, demonstrated in favor of getting them work permits, and opposed Israel's erection of the fence along the border with Egypt. They said that the surge of migrants could not be stopped by a fence, that they should be taken in, and that budgets should be allocated to incorporate them into the workforce and supply them with housing. These activists defined most arrivals as refugees rather than as migrant workers.
Infiltration across the Egyptian border began in 2006 with a slow trickle. Yet when migrants realized that there was work to be found in Israel, and that they could earn in a month the equivalent to several years’ wages back home, this trickle grew to a steady stream of 1,500 migrants a month by 2011, with even higher numbers in the first half of 2012. Up to now, around 60,000 migrants have crossed the border with Egypt, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea.
Early on, it was still possible to stop this flow humanely, before it turned into a ticking bomb. However, former Prime Minister Olmert did nothing, and Netanyahu also dragged his feet on the issue in the first part of his term. Only when the migrants' numbers grew and pressure mounted in the form of vocal demonstrations did the government decide, in March of 2010, to build the fence. This progressed at a snail’s pace until the lethal border attack on highway 12 in August 2011, in which terrorists from Sinai crossed into Israel and killed eight Israelis in a series of coordinated attacks. Once the issue became one of security, construction of the fence sped up and it is almost complete, except for a 14-kilometer stretch near Eilat.
The law has also changed. Now migrants can be detained in a holding facility in the south, where they are clothed and fed, but prevented from reaching the center to look for work. With no income or funds to send back home, Israel has become a much less attractive destination -- which explains why only 36 migrants entered Israel in December 2012, all of whom were transferred to this facility.
In the meantime, the Immigration and Population Authority has repatriated all but 100 migrants from South Sudan. It cannot, however, deport some 51,000 migrants from northern Sudan and Eritrea who have legal protection. Some are slowly emigrating, with the help of the authorities, because they cannot obtain work permits and live under difficult conditions. In the course of 2012, 9,207 illegal migrants left Israel; 3,920 of them returned to Africa.
Obviously, a refugee fleeing for his life is entitled to refuge and assistance here. However, most of the migrants in Israel come looking for work; only a minority qualify as refugees. These migrants generally find jobs at the expense of weakest elements of society, affecting their income levels, quality of life and their sense of security in impoverished neighborhoods such as part of south Tel Aviv. They take over jobs from manual laborers such as construction workers, field hands, factory and restaurant workers, as well as sanitation workers. They either replace locals or drive down wages.
Anyone opposing the border fence should realize that without it we would now be witnessing an influx of thousands of migrants a month, at a growing pace, with increasing damage to the weaker sectors of Israeli society. Anyone claiming that all these migrants should be given a chance to work should at the same time demand that they be relocated to Ramat Aviv and other neighborhoods in well-to-do northern Tel Aviv. They should also be trained to compete for jobs with residents of these areas. Looking at things in this light might change people’s minds.
End of season sale at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry
The budget year has just ended, and Trade Ministry officials held a toast to celebrate the last-minute wasteful spending of millions of shekels. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon will no longer be a minister or an MK, but he wanted to leave a lasting impression. Toward the end of 2012, the ministry launched three advertising campaigns promoting local products, small businesses and safety in the workplace. Such campaigns are usually spread out over an entire year, with promotion of local products usually appearing around holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Passover. This was true until Simhon’s Atzmaut party collapsed.
Each one of these advertising campaigns costs around NIS 4 million. Their total cost of NIS 12 million could easily have been transferred, for example, to the chief scientist at the ministry, who is in dire need of funding for worthy projects. Instead, Simhon wasted the money on ridiculous, unnecessary displays, just to boost his own reputation.
Not Chris Christie
As elections loom in Israel, there has been no shortage of political betrayals and allegiance switching. But none can match the actions of one U.S. politician: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He recently told a TV interviewer that his excess weight would not be a hindrance in seeking the Republication nomination for the White House in 2016. While his weight may not be a factor, his behavior might be.
In the most critical days before the U.S. presidential election, Christie came out with lavish praise for President Obama’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which badly damaged New Jersey and other parts of the tri-state area. This was worth more than any advertising campaign by the Democrats. Christie stabbed Romney in the back, ensuring his loss and paving the way for a Christie run in 2016. With Romney in the White House this would not have been possible.