Photo Credit: Courtesy the Knesset
MK Yoav Kisch

MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), chair of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, on Wednesday called an urgent meeting discuss the new UN initiative to protect migrants’ rights, which Israel is not planning to adopt, suggesting “Israel knows how to protect its borders and is operating in full coordination with the United States on this matter.”

The non-binding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was finalized in July and is due to be formally approved at a December 11-12 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

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“I have read the draft of the document which is being submitted to the conference, and, without going into detail, one can see that the agreement is very far from the positions of the Israeli public,” MK Kisch said.

“After Israel’s position has been made clear, I wish to understand how such an agreement is formulated, particularly when we know that other countries, such as the US, oppose it; what was the level of involvement and awareness of the political echelon, and why was there no significant public discourse on the initiative’s possible impact on Israel.”

Alon Bar, Deputy Director General for the United Nations and International Organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “This document is not a treaty, and therefore it is not signed, despite what was reported. [The initiative] seeks to create a normative framework for the treatment of migrants. It is one of dozens of processes that are taking place in the UN, at all times, on every issue which is of interest to the international community. Like any other country, Israel participates in discussions pertaining to every process in order to make certain that no resolutions are adopted which contradict our policies and in order to adjust what is created to the rules and norms in Israel, as much as possible.”

Bar told the committee that once the negotiations on the UN document ended, three months ago, “we presented it to the director general of the Foreign Ministry, and he presented it to the political echelon.”

Reuven Azar, Senior Foreign Affairs Coordinator at the National Security Council, said “the prime minister announced his reservations about the document, as did important countries such as the US and Australia. The document is a collection of rules which internally contradict one another. It does not provide the tools to deal with massive immigration waves, such as those from Africa; it does not address issues such as human trafficking, and it does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration.”

“Israel is the only country that has a land border with Africa. It is one of the densest countries in the world, the only country of the Jewish people, and the country with the highest population growth rate in the OECD. Israel does not see in this document something that applies to its reality,” Azar stated.

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) remarked that “this is an initiative which is not legally binding but we can join it, at the declarative level of protecting the weak, and the State of Israel is not doing this. The Prime Minister does recognize the climate changes, and there will be many migrants [arriving] from places where, due to the climate, there will be a lack food and water; this initiative has emerged to initiate a debate on this important issue. I am aware of the distress of south Tel Aviv’s residents, and we must definitely deal with this regardless of [this specific issue], but due to the Israeli government’s capitulation to their campaign, it is not joining a positive initiative.”

Sheffi Paz, a leader of the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods’ protests against the settling of thousands of illegal African migrants in their midst, commented that “there are officials who are carrying out an independent policy here: deportation of [migrants] to a third country was rejected, and then the UN outline came up and now this. This document obliterates the issue of refugees altogether and discusses economic migrants, climate migrants, and what doesn’t it [cover]? The document discusses re-educating the local population to accept migrants and [calls for] silencing media criticism – this is a declaration of intent that we should listen to. The UN is secretly organizing ‘surprises’, and every morning we wake up to the fear of what surprise is in store for us today.”

Anat Berman of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center asserted that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the agreement is non-binding, but it aims to become a norm. It creates norms that very quickly in every meeting there will be those who stand up and say that this contravenes the international agreement, and at the next stage, the Israeli court will rule according to this norm. We commend the government for opposing [it], but this is not enough, and Israel must lead a coalition of countries against it, because if enough countries will oppose [the agreement], the power and strength of the document will decrease.”

Attorney Shira Kahan of Kohelet Policy Forum noted that “this agreement contains several points that directly contravene Israel’s policy and are likely to restrain us in courts – for example, the document undertakes to assist migrants in sending money to their country of origin, and to help unify migrants’ families.”

Bar added that “the document is not legally binding, this is clearly stated, but this does not rule out the possibility that it may exert some kind of influence, and it is precisely for this reason that we were involved in the process. All kinds of interpretations of the document were raised here during the debate; however, I will say with caution that various and numerous entities in the Israeli system have engaged in [the drafting] of this document, just as was done in each one of the dozens of processes; nobody was of the opinion that it clearly contravenes the Israeli norms, and as mentioned, at the stage where a decision was required, several months ago, it was also presented to the political echelon.”

Chairman Kisch summed up the meeting saying, “I am coming out of this debate very concerned, precisely due to the point that you just made. Upon an initial reading, it is evident that this is an annoying document, a real red flag, but none of the government offices identified this and did not raise a flag. The attitude towards this document needs to be stringent and we cannot take it lightly, even if it is written that it is not [legally] binding. You attend meetings, and this is a good thing, but nobody understands that it contravenes Israel’s basic policy – the nation-state of the Jewish people, and nobody gives a clear recommendation to the political echelon to oppose. There must be decisiveness here, and we must not bury our heads in the sand; you should examine what you are doing.”

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