Jewish Home pushes narrow Supreme Court override bill to deport migrants

Proposal set for ministerial vote next week would weaken High Court’s power to strike down laws, but only regarding African asylum seekers

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Detainees at Holot detention center, January 17, 2015. (Nehama Shimnovic/File)
Detainees at Holot detention center, January 17, 2015. (Nehama Shimnovic/File)

The Jewish Home party introduced legislation Monday to prevent the High Court of Justice from striking down plans to deport thousands of African asylum seekers.

The proposal will face a vote in the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, where it is expected to receive backing from the coalition.

The bill, proposed by Jewish Home Knesset faction chairwoman MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, seeks to amend Israel’s Basic Law so as to allow African migrants to be deported under the Prevention of Infiltration Law, overriding High Court rulings that have struck down the plan as unconstitutional.

The top legal body has blocked previous government deportation plans carried out within the framework of the so-called Infiltrators Law that have either included indefinite detention of migrants or their deportation to countries deemed unsafe.

The High Court of Justice convenes for a hearing on the Regulation Law at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on June 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Judges have repeatedly stymied the government’s efforts to imprison and deport African asylum seekers from the country without examining their asylum requests or, the court said, sufficiently ascertaining the safety of the countries to which they were to be deported, as Israel is required to do under international treaties and Israeli law.

The new bill marks a less sweeping version of the so called supercession law long advocated by the some on the Israeli right that would effectively downgrade High Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of Knesset legislation to mere recommendations.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon has said that his coalition party would oppose such a sweeping bill, but has indicated he would back a bill focused solely on African migrants.

Israel considers most of about 35,000 African migrants to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them, and officials commonly refer to them as “infiltrators.” The Africans, nearly all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and face renewed danger if they return.

The Africans started moving toward Israel in 2005 after neighboring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

African migrants gather during a protest in Lewinsky park in Tel Aviv on January 09, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

African asylum seekers are often called “infiltrators” by right-wing politicians who argue they are not fleeing war but are economic migrants, and thus are not eligible for the protections of international and Israeli refugee laws.

Many of the estimated 38,000 migrants have settled in poorer neighborhoods in southern Tel Aviv and other towns, sparking tensions with longtime residents.

A wide coalition of critics in Israel and in the Jewish American community had called Israel’s deportation plans unethical and a stain on the country’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants. Several mass protests against it have taken place in several Israeli cities in recent months.

The expulsion policy drew further criticism after Netanyahu last month bowed to coalition pressure and nixed his own deal with the United Nations under which roughly half of the migrants would have been resettled in the West and others absorbed in Israel.

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