Politicians regularly meddled with arrivals committee to help associates — TV

Letter from legal adviser claims panel that ruled on entrance to country was often instructed on who to let in, including by Deri aide

The departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
The departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A legal adviser to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority has accused political figures, including an aide to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, of illicitly intervening in the work of the government’s Exceptions Committee on numerous occasions in order to allow their associates into the country, as well as absolve them from mandated stays in quarantine hotels.

In a letter to Ariel Yaakobi, chairman of the National Union of State Employees, published Friday by Channel 12, Meir Asraf requested assistance in clarifying to politicians that such behavior is unacceptable and possibly illegal.

The committee has already been subject to intense public scrutiny in recent days after a Channel 12 report last week suggested that the vast majority of passengers being allowed into the country have been ultra-Orthodox, while many non-Haredi requests were being rejected (though politicians and some in the media called the report into question).

Earlier this week the cabinet voted to largely close the Exceptions Committee, and starting Sunday, all Israelis abroad will be allowed to return home (though there will be a limit of 3,000 people a day). Only unvaccinated travelers seeking to leave the country will be required to receive approval from the panel.

A technician collects nasal swab samples at the coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, on February 28, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In the letter published Friday, Asraf shared that he has received many complaints from members of the Exceptions Committee, who said that the panel is operating improperly.

“Employees have described political elements interfering in the professional considerations,” he said.

“While the general public is presented with a picture of a committee that sits and seriously discusses every request for entree and exit, in practice, the committee… does not discuss every single case of citizens seeking to return to Israel,” the legal adviser revealed.

Asraf claimed no clear criteria had been set for adjudicating requests and that employees of the border authority were often required to make judgment calls on their own, with management and unnamed individuals sometimes instructing them on the phone to give approvals, in a process that is not documented.

“Political elements with power and influence have not been satisfied with telephone contact with the Exceptions Committee members, but often visited Ben Gurion Airport to ‘rescue’ some of the passengers slated to enter the government-mandated quarantine hotels,” Asraf wrote.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks to reporters after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, in Jerusalem on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

These political figures ordered members to simply approve certain requests without any justification, the legal adviser said.

Among them, it emerged that Minister Deri’s aide intervened multiple times and visited the airport to remove associates from the quarantine hotel list. Asraf did not identify the aide involved.

Channel 12 cited senior workers at the border authority saying they were often given names to approve via text messages, though they did not elaborate on who was giving those instructions.

Deri’s office flatly denied the report, telling Channel 12, “This is a completely false claim. No assistant to the minister has guided [Exception Committee members] through decisions regarding entry and exit from Israel and the sending of Israelis to quarantine hotels.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed