On the bus to Holot (file)
On the bus to Holot (file)Flash 90

The Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection, headed by MK Miri Regev (Likud), has approved "continuity" for the Infiltration Prevention Bill on Tuesday, placing it on a short track for legislation.

Laws are passed in the Knesset only after being approved by the plenum in the first, second, and third readings; if a law passes in the first reading, and the Knesset is dissolved for elections before it passes in further readings, it needs to be brought for the first reading again in the next Knesset, starting the whole process over again.

However, Tuesday's continuity decision means that the law proposed in the 18th Knesset for stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into Israel, and which passed in the first reading, can continue directly on to the second and third readings in the current, 19th Knesset.

The bill, which would see employment of illegal immigrants become a crime punishable by five years' prison time or a hefty fine, was proposed by MK Miri Regev (Likud) and MK Ofir Akunis (Likud).

If passed, however, the bill would only be enforced once enough detention centers for infiltrators - like the center in Holot, which provided free education, healthcare, and employment training for infiltrators but was shut down anyway due to a controversial High Court ruling - remained operational. 

Yesh Atid MKs became furious with the proposal during the discussion of the continuity, however - so much so that Acting Chairman MK David Azoulay (Shas) announced a pause "to allow Yesh Atid to decide."

Regev, who chaired the committee during part of the session, announced that the bill would not go to the Knesset plenum for a vote until the coalition parties had agreed upon it. 

'Racist' or anti-crime?

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) noted in the discussion that "the main problem with the imposition of a criminal offense for employers, is that despite the law - many people may employ them anyway, but now under poor working conditions."

"This is why we oppose continuity and propose that we think of other solutions which will include providing work permits to those who stay for under 5 years, and enacting sanctions after that," she continued, adding: "Why do you ignore the 130,000 refugees here from Europe? This is a racist law that we cannot be a part of." 

Other MKs disagreed, however - noting that the law could drive down the sky-high rates of violent crime in south Tel Aviv. 

"I look at the residents of south Tel Aviv in the eye and see the lives they left behind," said MK Zevulun Kalfa (Jewish Home). "If you do not block the phenomenon it will spread. If there are employers whose businesses are important to them more than the lives of others, then this must be put to an end."

Residents of south Tel Aviv have been suffering from endless harassmentperpetrated by tens of thousands of illegal Eritrean and Sudanese infiltrators who enter Israel to find employment and come to live in their working class neighborhoods. Many Jewish residents say they are terrified of leaving their homes and have begged the government to take action.

Public perception versus public safety

While violence has ruled the streets of those neighborhoods for years, controversy was sparked again recently after the High Court’s decision to strike down key sections of the Infiltrators Law, which made it possible to detain illegal immigrants without trial for up to one year.

The issue is a matter of public perception versus public safety. While proponents of the High Court ruling argue that the detention center is a "human rights" issue, a direct correlation has also been made between infiltration and violent crime. 

The violent crime rate in south Tel Aviv is now several times higher compared to the average for other sections of the major city. Sexual offenses in neighborhoods with large percentages of infiltrators have been recorded as occurring at a rate 3.5 times higher than found in the general population, violent crime 2.5 times higher than in the general population, and robbery 6 times higher than in the general population.