Editorial

Overriding Human Dignity

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is doing all it can to rid the country of asylum seekers, this time by trying to curb the High Court’s powers and breach human dignity

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 7, 2018.
Abir Sultan/AP

The right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues its relentless struggle against asylum seekers. The government is determined to find a loophole that will let it deport them, or at least lock them up for an unlimited period.

In the meantime, or until the government manages to deport the asylum seekers, it’s striving to make their lives intolerable. On Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss inserting an override clause into the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty regarding the prevention of illegal entry into Israel, as well as expulsions. This clause would prevent the High Court of Justice from annulling decisions that deport asylum seekers, as it has done in the past.

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Like the so-called cultural-loyalty bill, the future of this ugly legislation depends on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the only cabinet member who can still be expected to show a little responsibility. But it seems that despite his opposition to efforts to get around the High Court, Kahlon might support the override clause if it applies only to asylum seekers. It seems the approaching general election next year has put him into a particularly populist mood.

It’s hard to think of a more precise way to explain Israel’s bad approach to asylum seekers than the dry description of the legal action in question. The framers of the override clause want to give the government a legal tool to get around the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty; that is, to enable the state to breach human dignity.

Today, Israeli law protects asylum seekers from the state’s “solutions” such as forced deportation to a third country with which Israel has no agreement, or unlimited detention, because they are human beings whose dignity and liberty are enshrined in law. But the state wants to exclude asylum seekers from the law and the protection it affords.

Even without the override clause, the state has been able to turn its back on asylum seekers. Just this week the director of the Terem voluntary specialist medical clinic for asylum seekers – the only clinic to provide low-cost services to asylum seekers – announced that the clinic would close in a month because the Health Ministry is refusing to fund it.

Asylum seekers don’t have the rights granted by the National Health Insurance Law. They are entitled only to vaccinations and emergency treatment. Now they will have to turn to hospitals or private laboratories to receive the services that the Terem clinic provides. But the price of treatment will be much higher, and most asylum seekers can’t afford it.

The Health Ministry has already admitted that only insurance arrangements can ensure regular and proper medical treatment for asylum seekers. The health minister must quickly promote such a solution, and the finance minister must stop the attempt to get around the High Court. Despite the mean right-wing breeze blowing through the ministries, hopefully people will be found in the government who haven’t lost their humanity.

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