Editorial

The Israeli Interior Minister’s Deportation Campaign

Demonstrators protest the deportation of foreign workers outside the Tel Aviv municipal building, July 23, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Ofresina Koanka and her 12-year-old son Michael James were arrested last Sunday at their home in Yehud. Their crime: They seek to remain in Israel, where Michael, whose first language is Hebrew, was born and raised.

Michael, a special education student, and his mother have been held in a detention cell at Ben-Gurion International Airport since their arrest. Koanka came to Israel legally, to be a home health care aide to an old woman, but once Michael was born everything changed. Instead of being a valued worker in her profession, she became a foreigner whose visa, like that of her son, was not renewed.

Two days later, the brave immigration agents came for three more “criminals”: a 10-year-old boy, his 5-year-old sister and their Filipina mother, Geraldine Esta. She has lived in Israel for 16 years, and both children were born here. They, too, were placed in detention at the airport. They are all waiting to hear whether they will be deported or whether someone in Israel will finally wake up and realize that these arrests and deportation orders are wicked folly.

>> Read more: Israel must head off expulsion of Filipino children | Opinion

Around 100 female foreign workers who have lived in Israel with their children for over a decade, most of them from the Philippines, were suddenly issued deportation orders. Someone at the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority suddenly remembered them and decided to expel them. Judging by the actions of Interior Minister Arye Dery, it can be assumed that the timing wasn’t accidental. The cruel deportation has afforded Dery a colorful election campaign, for free; that is, paid for by Israeli taxpayers. No highway billboard or TV ad could buy him so much screen time.

In 2006 and 2010, the cabinet approved resolutions giving legal status to the children of foreign workers in precisely the same situation. Then, too, MK Haim Oron, the late former chairman of Meretz, called on the government to immediately craft a consistent, comprehensive policy on work migrants, to prevent a recurrence of such instances and so that female foreign workers coming to Israel know what to expect from Israeli law if they give birth here.

The policy he proposed was never drawn up, and now history is repeating. It’s not surprising that no one bothered to draft a permanent policy on the issue; ambiguity is a common tool of Israeli government administration. Every cabinet member wants to leave a mark, right up to the next election season, and setting future policy is never on the agenda. 

In recent decades, Israel has employed more and more foreign workers, and our economy is increasingly dependent on their contribution. The government must therefore develop a clear policy and not let ministers act according to their  personal whims. As long as the state fails to do so, maintaining ambiguity, it must at least ensure minimum humanitarian conditions for the workers who are here and their children, including not deporting children raised in Israel.

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