Olmert Wants More Foreign Aggies

The government will seek approval today to bring in an additional 3,000 agricultural workers. The Finance Ministry, the Industry and Trade Ministry and the Bank of Israel all oppose the proposal backed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, which contradicts governmental policy and previous decisions to cut back on foreign workers.

Government sources opposed to the proposal said over the weekend that it reflects an Olmert-Simhon deal, which contains both socioeconomic and political elements, and that they smell a rat. They added that the agriculture minister had lobbied the prime minister for months to increase the number of foreign workers in the field, even though they both know these workers are replacing Israelis from the lower socioeconomic strata.

Facing tough opposition within the treasury and the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Prime Minister's Office and the Agriculture Ministry tried to whitewash the proposal by setting up a special committee. Deputy Governor of the Bank of Israel Zvi Eckstein, considered an expert on labor issues, was to head the committee.

However, Eckstein, to the chagrin of the PMO and the Agriculture Ministry, made it clear that he would only agree to head the committee if it would seriously look into the matter and would not be a fictitious institution. Eckstein's answer prompted the idea of to shelve the committee. Instead, the proposal is being submitted today on the assumption that most ministers, for whom the issue of foreign workers is of minor importance, will support a proposal backed by Olmert and Simhon.