Monday, August 16, 2010

Netanyahu's wife protests deportation of migrant workers' children.

As right wingers in the United States argue over whether or not to change the 14th Amendment, in order to prevent "anchor babies" from allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the US, a similar situation has arisen in Israel, where the wife of Benjamin Netanyahu has written to Eli Yishai, the hardline cabinet member in charge of the deportation programme, asking that he reconsider a decision to deport 400 children of migrant workers.

"I appeal to you as a mother of two young boys and a psychologist in the public service," wrote Mrs Netanyahu. "I am asking you, from the bottom of my heart, to ... allow the vast majority of the 400 remaining children to stay in Israel."

The Israeli cabinet voted two weeks ago to deport the children. In a statement following the decision, the prime minister said: "On the one hand, this problem is a humanitarian problem. We all feel and understand the hearts of children. But on the other hand, there are Zionist considerations and ensuring the Jewish character of the state of Israel." The cabinet, he said, did not want to "create an incentive for the inflow of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers".

Israel has encouraged thousands of foreign workers to take jobs in its construction, agricultural and service industries in the past 10 years, since it barred most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from employment inside Israel.

Some of the foreign workers – largely from south-east Asia, China and Africa – have overstayed their visas and settled to rear families. Some also entered illegally.

The government estimates there are currently 1,200 children born to around 200,000 migrant workers. After debating the issue for about a year, it decided two weeks ago to allow 800 who have lived in Israel for more than five years, speak Hebrew and attend school to remain; the rest – most of whom are less than five years old – will be deported to their parents' home countries.

It's hard not to recoil from a government as extremist as the one led by Netanyahu. He talks of "ensuring the Jewish character of the state of Israel", but is he seriously arguing that the Jewish character of Israel is under threat from 1,200 children? That's a simply preposterous claim. Indeed, it is so preposterous that even his own wife has gone public to try to overturn this decision.

Following the decision, defence minister Ehud Barak – who was absent from the cabinet vote – publicly dissented. "The state of Israel cannot expel hundreds of children," he said. "It is not Jewish or humane and will scar the entire Israeli society." An umbrella organisation of Holocaust survivors also objected. "The state of Israel is ... founded on a Jewish heart and conscience," it wrote in a letter to the prime minister. "We who experienced the Holocaust were witnesses to the death camp selection and the separation between children and their parents ... We are overcome by a sense of suffocation and shame."

Several thousand people demonstrated against the move in Tel Aviv at the weekend.

The children are scheduled to be deported at the end of the month.

Barak is stating what I have said many times. Netanyahu's extremist government will leave a scar on the conscience of Israeli society. Even his own wife finds it impossible to stay silent whilst his government engages in such inhumane actions.

And yet, the government of Netanyahu are engaging in exactly the kind of actions which right wingers in the US are currently considering. What is wrong with American and Israeli right wingers that they have now found themselves targeting children?

Have they no shame?

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