It’s Their Money, Erdan

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The Neve Shaanan neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2020.
The Neve Shaanan neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, on March 22, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

One again, fear of being called a “leftist” is clouding the judgment of the cabinet. Two weeks ago the government introduced a bill that would allow asylum seekers to withdraw up to 2,700 shekels ($750) a month from the money that has been deducted from their wages and held in escrow until they leave the country.

The bill was drafted as a temporary measure, based on the assessment that more than half of asylum seekers, who are ineligible for most social benefits, have lost their jobs in the coronavirus crisis. It even has the support of Interior Ministry Arye Dery.

But pressure from pro-deportation activists and organizations as well as the fear among senior politicians of being seen as pro-asylum seekers led the cabinet to delay its approval.

In the face of the coronavirus crisis, the measure is the minimum demanded from the state; in fact, it’s less than the minimum. Make no mistake: The state did not decide to allocate resources to the community of asylum seekers, which in effect is beyond its food chain. In normal times, 20 percent of asylum seekers’ wages are withheld and placed in these accounts. Under the law, which was passed in order to spur them to leave the country, the funds can only be withdrawn when they do so. In other words, the bill merely gives asylum seekers temporary access to some of their own money.

But some people want to stop even that minimum. The main reason for the delay is Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s demand that any fines imposed on the asylum seekers for violating the emergency regulations to combat the pandemic be deducted from their accounts. Erdan’s proposed amendment is a model of political bullying, as befits a member of a government that specializes in bullying the weak. No other group in Israel has been subjected to such a sanction.

Erdan is not alone, of course. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government subsists on fear, hatred, division and factionalism, and it is obvious that they are what really dictate its policies, particularly in matters that are considered central to the left-right divide. Just like what happened two years ago with the refugee plan that Netanyahu and Dery signed with the United Nations refugee agency before canceling it the following day after surrendering to political pressure.

Professionals have warned that if asylum seekers are not permitted to withdraw funds, thousands will be unable to pay their rent and are at risk of resorting to violence and crime and of posing a health risk to themselves and their milieu. Already, hundreds of asylum seekers stand in line to receive food every day in south Tel Aviv. The decision to prevent them from accessing their own money is sentencing 30,000 people, including thousands of children, to starvation. But what are their lives worth in the face of politics that is driven solely by the desire to garner Likes from anti-asylum seeker activist Sheffi Paz? The cabinet must come to its senses and approve the law before a catastrophe happens in south Tel Aviv.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.