Israel continues to sink to new lows in its attitude toward the weaker members of society. Every time it seems that it can go no lower, the state finds a new nadir of despicability. Next week, about 60 asylum seekers, employed through a human resources agency as sanitation workers for the Tel Aviv municipality, will be fired. This follows a cabinet decision from a decade ago designed to “encourage employment of Israelis.”
At the height of an unprecedented economic crisis, which strikes an even heavier blow at weaker groups in society, the Interior Ministry found it urgent to enforce the decision now, of all times, and to rob the livelihood of people at the bottom of the food chain. Even the dubious excuse that asylum seekers are taking the jobs of Israeli citizens has nothing to support it, because as it turns out, no Israeli is willing to work as a street cleaner.
“Israelis just think this just isn’t suitable work for them,” the sanitation contractor in Tel Aviv told Lee Yaron, adding: “It’s a lose-lose situation.” But what’s the connection between rational thinking, minimal fairness, compassion and even economic logic and the Interior Ministry and Israel? As far as they’re concerned, let the streets stay dirty, as long as they are clean of Africans.
According to the municipality and sub-contractor, they don’t want to fire the asylum seekers, but they are being forced to do so by a directive the local authorities received in 2011 by the Interior Ministry director general, not to employ foreigners in sanitation work. Anyone who hoped the Supreme Court would stop this shamefulness was proven wrong. The government’s policy was backed up by the Supreme Court in response to a petition on the matter in 2017.
It’s important to realize the dimensions of the injustice: The 60 asylum seekers who were fired are not eligible for unemployment benefits or any assistance at all from the Social Affairs Ministry. Some of them are more than 60 years old, others are their family’s only breadwinner. On the instructions of the Israeli government, at the height of an economic crisis, with no logical reason and without a safety net, they might find themselves unable to pay their rent and buy food and with zero chances of finding another job, and descend into hunger.
“There is no need to waste words on the fateful implications at this particular time, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, for the population of foreign workers,” the Tel Aviv municipality wrote the director generals of the interior and social services ministries, urging them to allow the city to continue employing the asylum seekers. But the Interior Ministry understands the implications full well, and ignores them.
In its war against the asylum seekers, Israel has never balked at any means of “encouraging departure.” Interior Minister Arye Dery and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli must intervene and abolish this foolish action.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.