”What has become of you? Are you the Zionist Union or the expelling union? Have you gone mad? In your tactics for wooing votes, you’ve abandoned your fundamental values and ability to tell right from wrong.”
Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker from the leftist Meretz Party, shouted that at the left-bloc Zionist Union members who yesterday backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s draconian legislation to forcibly deport the remaining roughly 40,000 African asylum seekers to a third country – Rwanda.
Zandberg’s party leader Zehava Gal-On, added that the Zionist Union leader, Avi Gabbay, has “forgotten what it means to be human” – playing a bitter pun on the Gabbay’s recent echoing of Netanyahu, where he said that “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that it is time to “increase the pace of deporting African migrants”, as the Jerusalem Post reported, introducing a bill which passed 53-10 on Monday – much thanks to Gabbay’s support of a policy that is contrary to Labor’s former position.
Jerusalem Post Gil Hoffman yesterday summarized Gabbay’s many shifts rightwards since his being elected chair of Labor this summer:
Gabbay said recently that there would be no need to evacuate settlements in a peace deal, that he would not sit in a coalition with the Joint (Arab) list, that he was not sure if there was a partner on the Palestinian side, that “the Left forgot what it means to be Jewish”, and that “the whole land of Israel is ours, because it was promised to our patriarch Abraham by God”.
Indeed, with an opposition like this, who needs Netanyahu? As Meretz leader Gal-On put it, Gabbay was moving so far right, that he could even “outflank Bayit Yehudi [Jewish Home] leader Naftali Bennett”.
Netanyahu’s legislative move comes after a Supreme Court ruling two months ago that limited the state’s practice to coerce refugees to accept being deported to a third country, through indefinite imprisonment. At that point Netanyahu, together with Culture Minister Miri Regev (who has earlier called African refugees “a cancer in our body”), went on a major incitement tour against African refugees in southern Tel Aviv, saying that “We are here on a mission to give back south Tel Aviv to the Israeli residents”.
Netanyahu was making clear that he will not be deterred by the court ‘limitation’:
“We’ll have to enact new laws that will enable us … to send the illegal infiltrators out of our country”, he said.
As the Times of Israel rightly noted at the time, “expulsion to a third country is largely unprecedented in the Western world. Italy and Australia signed similar agreements with third-party countries — Italy with Libya, and Australia with Malaysia — but both proposals were shot down by local courts. In both cases, courts ruled the bills inconsistent with international law and the 1951 UN convention on refugees — to which Israel is also a party.”
But the court did, in fact, not rule against Israel’s practice of deportation to a third country – which is now known to be Rwanda. It merely limited the state’s practice of indefinite detention aimed at putting pressure on refugees to agree to be deported. It limited the imprisonment period to 60 days. In other words, refugees who seek to hold on to their human rights could still be imprisoned for it, but ‘only’ for 60 days.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was clear at the time about the necessity of this coercive measure, in her statement condemning the Supreme Court decision:
“The High Court removed from the state the ability to pressure the illegal infiltrators,” she said. “It turned the [migrant’s] lack of cooperation into a reward. We will fight this until we achieve the necessary results,” she said.
So Israel is now working on moves that would simply legalize what the court has struck down, and let’s see how far it goes before it’s challenged. As Ilan Lior reported in Haaretz on Friday, “The border authority will formally announce within a few weeks a new policy, under which asylum seekers will have to return to their countries of origin, agree to be sent to Rwanda or be jailed indefinitely in Israel.”
Gabbay’s recent push to support Netanyahu’s bill has divided the Labor leaders, and even Shelly Yachimovitch of Labor– the one who demanded immediate pardon for medic-killer Elor Azarya– said that it’s “morally impossible to support this.”
Labor lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul said, “I don’t understand how the party can support such an immoral move by the right, which seeks to throw refugees to hell.” He added: “Angela Merkel was willing to take the political risk until Election Day and take her moral stance of accepting thousands of refugees, and we hesitate and squirm here. Israel can handle a few tens of thousands of refugees and spread them across the country.”
In the end, most of the Zionist Union MKs who are against refugee rights (and that’s the plurality of the 22 Zionist Union members) were absent from the Knesset vote. But the measure still passed, as mentioned, 53-10.
With all the dissent, let’s look at what the leaders of the Israeli left say in the end:
Gabbay’s predecessor Isaac Herzog (still leader of Zionist Union in Knesset as Gabbay isn’t MK), said that “The infiltrators took Israeli Arab jobs.” Wow. The ‘infiltrators’. Netanyahu uses the same term. And is Herzog’s concern now really about ‘Arabs’ – the one who warned the Israeli center-left not to be seen to be ‘Arab lovers’?
Think about it – “Arab jobs”. Does anyone in Israel even notice the vile, blatant, racism here?
And Labor’s Merav Michaeli, (who recently said that “a lot of the BDS movement is good old anti-Semitism”), backed Herzog’s line, just a touch more “liberally”, without the ‘Arabs’ and substituting “infiltrators” with “migrants”:
“Residents have been left at home with no work, because of the migrants”, she said. “There are MK’s in the opposition who cannot look in[to] the eyes of residents who are screaming for us to save them”, she added.
Gosh, what empathy. The Israeli residents are screaming to be saved. Nonetheless, the cries of the refugees, who at best are called “migrants” and commonly regarded as “infiltrators”, even by the left, appear inaudible.
Gabbay is no doubt wooing votes from the right, and he said behind closed doors yesterday that “this is not an issue of right or left”. Already assuming his future constituency, he said that “we would pay a price for arguing with the public”.
So whilst not wanting to argue with “the public”, Gabbay apparently didn’t mind arguing with his own party leadership to support Netanyahu’s bill.
The Israeli Labor is further shedding masks. But let us not forget, that this is also the movement whose leaders contemplated genocide in Gaza in 1967, as newly declassified documents show. This is the same political movement that was responsible for the major ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, subsequent major ethnic cleansings in 1967 and on, and the settlement project since 1967.
The movement that has so arduously created such a great Palestinian refugee crisis for the sake of the Jewish State– what is the meaning to Labor of another 40,000 African refugees after all?