How did the Refugee Problem become a Right/Left Issue

Earlier this week the Israel Court mostly upheld the law that allows the government to keep asylum seekers in a special detention facility for a period.  This was the third time that the Knesset passed a law on the subject of the refugees.  The first allowed almost unlimited detention and the second law  2 years of detention, this one allowed for 18 months detention. The first two laws were struck down by the court. The Supreme Court did insist that 18 months was too long and requested that the Knesset revise the maximum period to 12 months.


Both supporters of law and its opponents were unhappy with the decision.  Unfortunately supporters and opponents largely broke down along left right lines.   The left believes that a law that violated the civil rights of the refugees should not be upheld at all, and the right was angered that the court would dare overturn part of a law a third time.  Before the decision was announced  Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaket posted on her Facebook feed a warning that if the Supreme Court overturns the law she would push to pass the law that would allow the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

I find all of this very disturbing to say the least.  On one level there is no question that the court bowed to political pressure in the same way that the Supreme Court of the US bowed to FDR when it approved  Social Security, at a time when Roosevelt was threatening his famous court packing plan.  The situation here  is a little different. The US was in the midst of a crisis and FDR had extremely broad support to make far reaching economic changes.   Here we have a country pretty much split down the middle and  a court that is trying to uphold the very basic human rights prescribed in Israel’s own Basic Laws. The somewhat frightening part of the story is the fact that politicians on the right do not seem to understand the concept of separation of power.  They keep on saying that the Knesset is the ribon,  meaning the ultimate authority and no one should question that.  They actually believe that it undemocratic for the judicial branch to question actions of the Knesset.  There is a second related matter that I have previously referred to, and that is the willingness to change Basic Laws.  Like I mentioned before there was a consensus among parties not to touch basic laws that has now broken down.

The wider problem of course is the refugees.  Before the fence was built (something I must give PM Netanyahu credit for) it was an almost impossible situation with thousand arriving every month and no end in sight.  Thanks to the fence, six refugees came last year.  All together there are 40,000 African refugees here.  This is a world wide problem.  Europe is being swamped with refugees.  There is no question that having them here is a challenge especially to the residents of South Tel Aviv who tend to be poor.  But the reason that its such a challenge is that we have done nothing to try to accommodate the refugees.  The attitude has been, if we make it to nice for them more will come.  Of course that ignores the fact that we now have a very high fence and none have been able to come.  As a result the are officially forbidden to work, and authorities have made sure that it takes literally years to review requests for refugee status.

After the Supreme Court  decision Likud Minister of Public Safety  Gilad Eradan, continued the Likud’s attempt to demonize the left and posted “now the left is caught between the poor residents of south Tel Aviv and their concern for human rights.”  Amos Shocken, the publisher of Ha’aretz, who rarely directly attacks politicians then responded angrily how could he, a member of the party who has been in power for the last six years, blame the left.  I have to ask who hardened our hearts 70 years after the Holocaust that we cannot find innovative solutions to the problem of the refugees.  How is it that we can import 100,000 foreign workers and yet we have to round up and detain in a detention center these refugees.  Finally how did this become a right/left problem?  It certainly would not have been in the time of Menachem Begin.  How did the right become so xenophobic that we can only help victims when they in Nepal and Haiti and not on our doorstep?



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