Israel Pulse

Children even fair game in Israel’s election campaign

Article Summary
Right-wing politicians are either silent or support the expulsion of Filipino mothers and their Israel-born children.

The Supreme Court rejected Sept. 5 a petition against the expulsion of children of migrant workers, most from the Philippines, born in Israel. On the backdrop of statements made by several right-wing politicians on the issue, one might wonder whether right-wing voters popped open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the ruling. The justices rejected the appellants’ argument that Israeli law does not allow a transitional, caretaker government to change official policy, but the government argued there had not been any such change.

On the one hand, the nationalists are never happier than when the leftist “knee-jerk liberals” are defeated. In this case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri can take credit for yet another victory in the battle against the “demographic threat” facing the Jewish state. On the other hand, the ruling robbed them of an excellent opportunity to attack the judiciary for getting in the government’s way and conducting “a terror attack against democracy,” as Netanyahu has taken to accusing in recent months.

What a field day they would have had with a ruling allowing the Hebrew-speaking children of non-Jewish mothers who overstayed their working visas to remain in Israel. They could have blamed the judges for ignoring the threat that a young Jewish man would one day fall into the clutches of a good-looking Filipino non-Jewish girl, eventually bringing assimilated children into the world. Let's not forget that Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz declared Sept. 9 that intermarriage was “akin to a second Holocaust.”

Nonetheless, on the planned deportation of dozens of migrant workers’ children, Peretz displayed more compassion than his government colleagues did. In a letter to Deri, Peretz urged the interior minister to reconsider the decision, earning him a rebuke from his fellow party and government colleague, Bezalel Smotrich, who demanded an immediate deportation of foreign workers and their children to their homeland.

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Since the Supreme Court declined to delve too much into the issue, simply ruling that the decision by the interior minister should be carried out, all that the right wing could do was to mobilize the children’s expulsion for its election campaign propaganda. The Interior Ministry under Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, insists there has not been any change in policy and no decision has been made to carry out a mass deportation. However, members of the Filipino community in Israel, social activists and staff at the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, which many of the children attend, argue that until recently, the children of Filipino migrant workers were hardly ever deported.

Head of the right-wing Yamina (Rightward) alliance Ayelet Shaked was quick to take Deri’s side. The former justice minister described encouragement of left-wing groups to hide illegal migrants from authorities as “nothing short of shocking.” She also accused the Filipino mothers of “cynically exploiting their children as a 'human shield' and of 'emotional blackmail.'”

Shaked turned the fight against a few hundred children who dared emerge from a “gentile” woman’s womb into a “struggle for Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.” Just so. In this struggle, Shaked declared, “We must not lose to the radical left.” She pledged, “We in Yamina commit to keep blocking efforts by the left to dismantle Israel’s migration policy.”

Shaked obviously ignores the situation of some 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. According to Israel’s Law of Return, every person whose parent (mother or father) is Jewish, is entitled to immigrate to Israel. Yet the Chief Rabbinate does not consider children born to a Jewish father only as Jews. But that, of course, is a whole other issue. These are Israeli citizens with full voting rights. Indeed, most of these Russian-speaking immigrants are not wild about the religious parties that oppose civil marriage and reform conversion to Judaism. Still, Shaked might estimate that with her — a secular woman — at the helm of Yamina, the religious party may yet pick up a few votes from this non-Jewish community.

Lambasting his colleague Peretz, Smotrich said, “Sensitivity and humanitarian sentiment I reserve for my brothers, the residents of south Tel Aviv,” where many migrant workers live alongside low-income Israelis. This is the epitome of the right-wing’s political-social strategy. It portrays itself as the champion of its “homegrown poor and downtrodden” defending their interests against foreigners and leftist Israelis who, according to Netanyahu’s famous claim, “have forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” Netanyahu whispered this damaging canard in the ears of old Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri in 1997. Thus, he reaffirmed the famous diagnosis made by the late Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres the day after losing to Netanyahu in the 1996 elections: “The Jews have defeated the Israelis.”

In February 2016, Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s leading journalists, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth that in a bid to draw Likud renegade Moshe Kahlon back to the party, Netanyahu told him, “I know whom they [Israelis who originated from Arab states] hate. They hate the Arabs. And I know how to deliver the goods to them.”

Netanyahu has been adept at nurturing hatred of Arabs and upgrading it into hatred of foreigners, of real and imagined leftists and of journalists who are not part of his inner circle. A 2018 international poll by the Pew Research Center found that Israel took the lead among the 18 countries surveyed on the extent of its opposition to taking in refugees from war-torn countries. The main opposition Blue and White party is obviously mindful of this public intolerance of “others” as it courts mainstream Israeli society. This appears the likely explanation for the indifference by the Netanyahu's government main rival to the expulsions.

The only senior politician to publicly champion the children’s cause was former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, currently among the leaders of the left-wing Democratic Camp. He appealed to President Reuven Rivlin to intervene to stop the deportation, at least until a new government is formed after the elections. “Israel was established so that such expulsion of children would not happen,” he tweeted. Alongside the photo of a 10-year-old Filipino girl named Maureen Lasko embracing an Israeli classmate, Barak added, "Maureen dreams and sings in Hebrew. Maureen is not a ticking time bomb.” The president has refrained from intervening in the affair.

At the end of August, the Tel Aviv District Court ordered Maureen and her sister Kim, who were arrested along with their parents, to be released on bail. The 20,000 Israeli shekels ($5,650) bail money was raised by the parents of the Balfour Tel Aviv School that the girls attend.

Deputy District Court President Judge Kobi Vardi risked his career and wrote that in his view, the damage to the girls of distancing them from the place where they were born and raised “outweighs the expected damage (if at all) of their remaining in Israel.” If Shaked resumes her position as justice minister in the next Netanyahu government after the elections, and as chair of the Judicial Appointments Committee, such rulings will be considered subversive.

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Found in: Israeli elections

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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