Editorial |

Labor Party's Support of Deportation, Imprisonment of Asylum Seekers Cheapens the Israeli Opposition

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Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay at an economic conference with students at Emek Israel college in Israel's north on November 16, 2017.
Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay at an economic conference with students at Emek Israel college in Israel's north on November 16, 2017.Credit: Rami Shllush

Under the leadership of new Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay, the MKs of the Zionist Union gave their support Monday to a disgraceful government bill for the deportation and imprisonment of asylum-seekers. If the draft law is passed, the Holot detention center would be shuttered and asylum-seekers given a choice: deportation to Rwanda or indefinite incarceration in Israel.

Any attempt to ignore Israel’s legal and moral obligations to refugees for the sake of solving a supposed conflict with the needs of long-time residents of south Tel Aviv or of Arab citizens is nothing but cheap demagoguery. Israel has no difficulty meeting its obligations without hurting its own disadvantaged communities; anyone who uses economic arguments to justify the failure to lend a hand to refugees is lying. The state wasted over 1 billion shekels ($284 million) on building and operating Holot; four years later, it is in effect admitting its error and closing the facility.

No less concerning is Zionist Union’s puzzling decision to join the racists and ultranationalists from the right and the center of the political spectrum demanding the deportation or detention of 35,000 refugees. It would seem that the position shift is motivated not by new insights about refugees but rather by new insights about potential Zionist Union voters. “We would pay a heavy price for opposing the bill, it will look bad,” Gabbay said in explaining the decision.

Since his election in July as head of the Labor Party, Gabbay seems determined to deconstruct the position of the left, out of a desire to enable new groups within society to identify with the party’s values. He did this in regard to Arabs, to settlements and to faith and religion, and to complete the picture he is now doing it in regard to refugees and human rights. Many on the left feel Gabbay is distancing himself from his “natural” voters. But the problem is not only the change in the target audience but also the alienation from the principles and positions that justify the existence of an opposition in the first place. The idea behind having different parties is to allow the expression of different positions. In his attempts to distance himself from “the left” — so vilified by the right — Gabbay is erasing the differences between left and right while eliminating the need for more than one party. If there are no differences between Labor and Likud, what reason will there be to vote Labor rather than Likud?

Although there is no way to avoid blaming Gabbay, that does not absolve of responsibility the Zionist Union MKs who supported the proposal, in the manner of young children or members of undemocratic parties such as Yesh Atid and the ultra-Orthodox parties. Gabbay and the Zionist Union lawmakers would do well to come to their senses and find a way to the hearts of potential voters that does not come at the cost of the lives of thousands of people whose only sin is that they are refugees.

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

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