Amid ongoing protests and strikes among Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar criticized restaurant owners, many of whom have sided with their migrant employees regarding their vocal demands for increased work permits.
“The restaurant owners’ cries about the [dirty] dishes in the sink won’t determine Israel’s policies,” Sa’ar said on Monday in an interview with Ynet. “It doesn’t really impress me. Let’s think about the Israelis who have lost their jobs.”
Israeli workers won’t wash dishes, restaurant owners and hotel managers — primarily in the Tel Aviv area and Eilat — said earlier on Monday of the tens of thousands of migrant workers on strike over the past two days. The employers called on the Israeli government to increase the number of permits for asylum seekers, or their businesses were likely to suffer as a result.
Thousands of African migrants rallied outside of foreign embassies in Israel on Monday, in the second day of demonstrations and strikes to sweep the country. On Sunday, an estimated 30,000 migrants participated in a march that began in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park and ended with a demonstration in Rabin Square at which the crowd chanted “No more prison, no more deportation. We are refugees, we need asylum.”
Restaurant owners later responded to Sa’ar’s remarks and accused him of avoiding the issue.
“We are not crying that we don’t have dishwashers in [our] restaurants,” Uri Gottlieb, actor and Tel Aviv restaurant owner said. “We are crying about Gideon Sa’ar’s behavior. We are crying about their [the migrants'] pain.”
“We are serving food on disposable dishes and are working overtime until they return and the matter is resolved,” Nana Shrier, owner of the upscale Nanuchka restaurant in Tel Aviv, added. “We’ve grown attached to them personally, and we know their personal stories.”
According to statistics compiled by the workers’ hotline Kav LaOved, many migrants who work in restaurants earn far below the minimum wage, receive no social benefits, and often work for more than 12 hours at a time.
The African migrants are protesting Israeli refugee policies, which make it difficult to receive official asylum seeker status, and have seen tens of thousands held in detention facilities in the Negev for extended periods of time. On Sunday, the UN’s refugee agency appealed to Israel to reform its policies toward African asylum seekers, saying the involuntary detentions and rules treat them as criminals.
However, Israeli leaders — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have dismissed the protests.
“I would like to clarify that these are not refugees, whom we handle according to international treaties, but rather infiltrators in search of work who are illegal, and we will fully bring them to justice,” Netanyahu said at the opening of Monday’s Likud-Beytenu faction meeting. “In 2013, we expelled 2,600 infiltrators from here, six times more than we did in the preceding year. This year we will remove more — that is our commitment and we’ve been conducting ourselves accordingly.”
Sa’ar echoed the sentiment in his interview with Ynet on Monday, stating that most of the migrants “are labor migrants, and the State of Israel is not their home.”