Defying court, Knesset revamps ‘Infiltrator Law’

New legislation, denounced as shameful by opponents, allows for the detention of African migrants for up to one year

Illustrative image of African migrants in south Tel Aviv (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90/File)
Illustrative image of African migrants in south Tel Aviv (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90/File)

The Knesset passed late Monday night a new version of the so-called “Infiltrator Law,” which allows for the detention of illegal African migrants for up to one year, and additionally provides for the detention of such individuals in what is termed an “open” facility.

The previous version of the law, which provided for detaining “infiltrators” for at least three years, was struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice in September.

The new law was passed by a vote of 30 to 15, after a fiery five-hour debate in the Knesset plenum which lasted into the wee hours. The legislation was sponsored by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar of the prime minister’s Likud party.

During debate, Meretz party chief Zahava Gal-On called the proposed law “a disgrace which mars the law books” and predicted that it, too, would be invalidated by the High Court.

Sa’ar addressed the measure’s opponents, saying, “This law serves the interests of the state and her citizens, Jews and Arabs.”

“You say the law is shameful — not only are we not ashamed by it, we would be ashamed and embarrassed if faced with powerlessness in protecting the only country we have,” he added.

There are currently more than 50,000 African migrants in Israel. Some 1,750 are being held by the state, most of them in the Saharonim Prison in southern Israel.

A new “open” facility in the Negev begins accepting people this week. The Holot facility, which will allow detainees to come and go during the day and be locked down at night, will have an initial capacity for 3,300 people, according to Haaretz.

The High Court’s ruling in September stipulated that each case must be examined individually, so it remains to be seen whether the nascent law will pass judicial scrutiny.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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