A plan to deport more than 40,000 asylum seekers and refugees from Israel passed the Knesset last week, paving the way for the implementation of program previously blocked by the Supreme Court. The legislation will also close the Holot detention camp in the Negev, where thousands of African refugees have been detained since it was first opened less than a decade ago. The bill, which passed by a vote of 71 to 41, would also empower the government to “deport illegal immigrants” who refuse to self-deport in exchange for compensation.
In August of 2017, the Supreme Court blocked attempts by the far-right government to deport those who refused to voluntarily leave the country, and ruled that detainees could be held at the Holot facility for no more than 12 months.
The law which was passed late last Monday night, December 11, will enable the government to deport refugees who have in the past refused to self-deport in exchange for $3,500 in cash. Initially the Supreme Court had ruled against forced deportations because only voluntarily deportations had been covered in Israel’s initial agreements with third-party states.
The legislation also grants a limited three-month extension to the mandate for the operation of the Holot detention center, effectively putting a deadline for the deportation of those infiltrators now detained at Holot.
Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) blasted the law, arguing that it ignored the real needs of poverty-stricken neighborhoods that have become home to large illegal immigrant populations, adding that the government was inciting locals against asylum seekers. Labor party leader Avi Gabbay “has forgotten what means to be Jewish is,” said Khenin dryly during the stormy hours long Knesset debate that preceded the vote. He was referring to the Gabbay’s support of the law and the controversial comment by Gabbay about Israel’s Left, which was a paraphrase of the same comment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s.
During the debate in the plenum Khenin repeatedly shouted the biblical injunction from the Book of Deuteronomy 10:19: “You shall love the stranger! You shall love the stranger! You shall love the stranger! You shall love the stranger!” According to the Communist MK “the government talks in the name of the residents of south Tel Aviv, but in practice is abandoning them. Out there in the desert, this government sank a billion and a half shekels ($425 million) into a useless, problematic, irrelevant, harmful detention facility – and now they’re going to close it. Rather than invest in solving the problems facing those asylum seekers who came here from Africa and the problems of the south Tel Aviv habitants, this government has done just one thing – incite people against one another.”