A heated discussion was held Monday in a Knesset committee on the pending deportation of African migrants from Israel, with an opposition lawmaker telling a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, “You are friends with Nazis.”
MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party got into an argument with Likud MK Oren Hazan, telling him he had “Nazi friends all over the world.” Hazan, a controversial and flamboyant lawmaker, was condemned last year for tweeting his support of Marine Le Pen, the far-right French leader.
When the chairman of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Yoav Kisch, ejected Zandberg from the discussion, she objected and called Kisch “insolent,” adding to him and to people in the room: “You are friends with Nazis, how are you not ashamed of yourselves?”
Fellow opposition MK Dov Khenin of the mostly Arab Joint List faction said during the discussion that while the migrant problem is significant, the government was “inciting instead of proposing real solutions and changes to the situation.”
“We are talking about people in distress who fled genocide and benighted dictatorships to come here,” he added.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said during the meeting that “false information” was being published about the deportation plan. He said families, women and children would not be expelled from the country, along with anyone who has filed a request for asylum before the end of 2017 and has not received a final response.
Deri noted that more than 5,000 illegal immigrants from European countries were deported in 2017, claiming that the figure refuted accusations of discrimination against Africans.
The issue of African migrants in Israel has drawn increased attention since the Knesset’s approval last month of an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” that paves the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March. It also makes legal the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave “voluntarily.”
There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates and have lobbied the government for their deportation.
The amendment has gained international attention and is fraught with controversy.
Despite criticism of the deportation plan from Israeli rights activists and Jewish communities in the US, a Channel 10 poll released Sunday indicated that a majority of Israelis support expelling African migrants from the country.
Asked if they support the government’s decision to deport the migrants, 56% of respondents said yes, 32% said no, and another 12% said they did not know.
Despite a majority supporting deportation, only 44% said they would be in favor of forcibly removing the migrants, as compared to 46% who said they opposed doing so. Another 10% of respondents said they did not know.