Interior Minister Gideon Saar
Interior Minister Gideon SaarFlash 90

The Knesset approved late Monday night the second and third readings of the amendment to the law to prevent infiltration of illegal immigrants.

30 MKs voted in favor of the legislation and 15 opposed it.

The purpose of the law, presented by Interior Minister Gideon Saar (Likud), is to prevent the entry of illegal infiltrators into Israel's borders and add tools to deal with the phenomenon of the illegal infiltrators already residing in Israel.

The law would allow police to jail illegal migrants for up to 12 months in special detention facilities.

The new law follows the cancellation of a previous law that allowed illegal migrants to be held for up to three years. That law was overturned by the High Court as unconstitutional. It is estimated the new law will cost 500,000 shekels ($140,000) to implement.

The law passed its first reading several weeks ago and, with the passing of the second and third readings, is now officially enacted.

The vote was preceded by a heated debate, as the leftist parties in the Knesset reiterated their objection to the bill, just as they did during the debate that preceded the first reading.

Those opposed to the legislation say that the illegal infiltrators are genuine refugees, ignoring the fact that almost all of them come to Israel to look for jobs.

Residents of southern Tel Aviv, as well as those of other cities like Eilat, have been suffering from endless harassment, fear and violence perpetrated by the many illegal Eritrean and Sudanese infiltrators who enter Israel to find employment and come to live in their working class neighborhood.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who heads a Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, slammed the law during the debate on Monday night, accusing the government of “spreading lies” about it.

“The lies the government has been spreading in recent days about the ‘infiltrators’ law are not just in contempt of the High Court - they are also a disgrace to the Israeli public,” she charged.

“The bill the Knesset wishes to pass tonight is a web of lies which violate human rights, deceive the residents of southern Tel Aviv and solves nothing about the issue of refugees in Israel. Personally I am ashamed, and collectively we will all regret this day,” said Rozin.

Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon also slammed the bill and said, “This law is one of the biggest insults that will stain the Israeli law book. Have we gone crazy? What is this incitement? Refugees are referred to as a disease, as if they are a demographic threat to Israel. This law also fails to meet the standards of the High Court, and it does not seem to bother anybody.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) argued that the new law would make the situation in southern Tel Aviv even worse.

“Even if the bill passes, and even if it is not rejected by the High Court, and it will be possible to lock up asylum seekers for a year without trial - all these detention facilities together will hold 5,000, while an additional 50,000 will remain on the streets of southern Tel Aviv,” he claimed. “This law is immoral for the Knesset to specifically approve on International Human Rights Day, and beyond this it will not solve any problem but only worsen the existing problems.”

Responding to the critics, MK Miri Regev (Likud) said, “Residents of southern Tel Aviv and Eilat also have human rights. Enough with this beautification.”

Regev accused Rozin of “protecting criminals who illegally cross our borders, not the residents of Tel Aviv. Shameful. I’m sure the High Court will not reject this law. It is proportionate.”

Minister Saar said during the debate, “The facts are that there are tens of millions today in Africa, who are looking for a Western country to migrate to. The equation is simple but brutal: If we raise our hands in despair or decide consciously that we should be the most liberal country in the West in dealing with the phenomenon of infiltrators - we will lose our only state. The second question is whether we act to reduce the volume of illegal infiltrators in Israel or accept the status quo?”

Saar declared, “We are determined to prevent infiltration into Israel and reduce the volume of infiltrators residing in Israel.”

Responding to calls from the opposition against the law, he said, "You oppose all measures and all laws related to the infiltrators. You strive for us to have a state of infiltrators. You want us to give up, and we will not give up.”

Saar also told those opposed that “this law serves the interests of the state and its residents - Jewish and Arab alike.”