The opening salvo of the election campaign for the 25th Knesset was fired last week, and in the four months left until the election, the candidates will try to win headlines and the hearts of voters. It seems Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has decided to hack a path back to the heart of the right-wing electorate, at the expense of the very weakest in society: asylum seekers. Shaked, who was a member of a government that spoke of change and healing, wishes to prove that the road to Netanyahu goes through south Tel Aviv.
Last Thursday, the Interior Ministry published a new procedure, to go into effect in October, limiting asylum seekers to certain occupations in 17 cities with large migrant worker populations. According to the new procedure, asylum seekers will not be allowed to work in these cities unless employed in construction, farming, institutional nursing or the hospitality industry, hotels or restaurants – the latter on the condition that they worked in restaurants until the end of June. This means that Wolt drivers and other delivery messengers, auto shop workers, cleaning workers and shop clerks, as well as new restaurant workers – all these, and any other occupation not on the Interior Ministry’s limited list – are forbidden to them. According to the procedure, employing an asylum seeker in violation of these conditions is against the Migrant Workers Law. The only exemptions from criminal liability are for parents, people over 60, and minors.
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This is another limitation on the freedom of asylum seekers. Since the option of deporting them has been blocked, the state has been doing all it can to make their lives miserable. The message is clear: You have no future in Israel. The Interior Ministry places two options before the asylum seekers: Be Israel’s menial workers, or depart “voluntarily.” The message is intended not only for the adult population, but also their children. Some 8,000 foreign children live in Israel. Most were born here. The Interior Ministry’s procedure locks their future within tight constraints, cutting off their hopes and chances at a better life than their parents had.
Shamefully, this procedure was approved by the Supreme Court. Justices Daphna Barak-Erez, Isaac Amit and Alex Stein ruled last October that the Interior Ministry’s decision to limit the occupations of asylum seekers is proportionate, and ordered the state to formulate an orderly procedure on how these limitations are to be imposed, including criteria for appeal.
Asylum seekers aren’t the only ones who will be harmed. As many businesses suffer from workforce shortages, especially since the COVID crisis, they will have to give up existing employees. This is not just sheer cruelty, but also stupidity.
These cruelties and stupidities must be preempted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid. It would be an important signal to send at the start of his term.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.