JERUSALEM (Aug. 27)
Amid mounting concern in government circles here over the long-term impact of large numbers of foreign workers residing in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to take drastic action against them.
Labor Minister Eliyahu Yishai presented the Cabinet last Friday with a plan to cut the number of foreign workers drastically. The plan calls for the deportation of 100,000 illegal foreign workers and a reduction in the number of legal workers by 20,000 during the next 18 months.
Some 100,000 workers from Europe, Asia and Africa were allowed into Israel to replace Palestinians whose entry was prohibited after the closure was imposed earlier this year on the West Bank and Gaza.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 additional foreign workers are in Israel illegally.
The Interior and Labor ministries have warned that if the number of foreign workers is not cut down immediately, Israel may face monumental social problems, similar to the problems France and Germany face with large transient worker communities that seek to become permanent but are not entitled to citizenship.
Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government has in recent weeks eased the closure to allow some 35,000 Palestinians to enter Israel daily for work, which in effect lessens dependence on the foreign workers.
Yishai recommended setting up a new foreign workers authority, which would coordinate activities between the Interior, Public Security and Labor ministries. The authority would establish detention centers where the workers would be held until they are deported.
The proposal came under a strongly worded attack by Meretz Knesset member Amnon Rubinstein.
“I envision the outcry once those camps are erected,” he said, adding that this will be seen as an “inhumane act which will hurt Israel’s image.”
The Cabinet is expected to discuss the subject at its weekly meeting Friday.