Photo Credit: Michael Giladi/Flash90
Construction workers pouring concrete on the first floor of a new gas station in Katsrin, Golan Heights, September 9, 2023.

Israel’s construction industry has been in deep trouble since October 7, 2023, facing a debilitating shortage of experienced workers due to the ban on PA Arabs. Meanwhile, the effort to recruit workers through manpower firms in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe has not been yielding the needed results. On Thursday, Calcalist broke the news that the failure to recruit construction workers abroad who aren’t potential Hamas agents is not going anywhere because of draconian conditions invented by the Justice Ministry, which in turn is being pushed by the Biden administration.

The American excuse is that Israel’s effort to bring in foreign workers who were recruited by private companies would lead to the exploitation of these workers, to the point of trafficking, arguing that Israel is not prepared to combat this problem.

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But the real effort, clearly, is to force Israel to legitimize the entry of some 100 thousand Arab workers from the PA. This is because the Biden administration is pushing the two-state solution down Israel’s throat worse than President Obama had done (in some cases it’s the same people), and the envisioned Palestinian State’s economy would inevitably rely on those day workers who bring home the shekels.

The White House’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Cindy Dyer. / US Mission photo by Eric Bridiers

The White House’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Cynthia (Cindy) Dyer sent an official warning letter to the Justice Ministry and conducted a Zoom discussion with the head of the trafficking unit on the Israeli side. The conversation took two hours and Cindy asked many tough questions and eventually canceled a scheduled visit of Israeli representatives in Washington.

Israel is listed by the State Dept. as a Tier-2 country out of three tiers, alongside Mexico, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Italy, and Norway. Israel’s report card reads:

The Government of Israel does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Israel remained on Tier 2.
These efforts included approving the 2022-2026 anti-trafficking implementation plan, recognizing more trafficking victims, and revising victim recognition procedures. The government also modestly increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.
The government’s efforts to hold labor traffickers criminally accountable remained inadequate, and the government did not consistently investigate labor trafficking cases referred by NGOs.
The government relied on NGOs to initially identify victims, rather than proactively identifying victims. NGOs continued to report that the government’s high evidentiary standard to recognize victims discouraged victims from seeking government assistance. The government’s oversight of foreign labor recruitment outside of bilateral work agreements (BWAs), including through foreign contracting companies, was inconsistent and inadequate to prevent forced labor.
In addition, the government’s “non-enforcement” policy for Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine and working on tourist visas in Israel increased their vulnerability to trafficking.

Here’s the thing: when comparing the possibility that some foreign workers would face difficult conditions to the very real danger of PA Arabs gathering information for Hamas in preparation for the next massacre if not themselves pulling a knife on Israeli civilians one fine sunny day, the choice should be obvious.

Not, as it turns out, according to the Justice Ministry. Immediately following October 7, the government increased the allowed quota of foreign workers from 30 to 50 thousand. But only some 10 thousand have arrived so far, because of the additional requirements that were set by Justice. First, they want employers to exhaust their efforts to recruit workers from countries that have signed bilateral anti-trafficking agreements. It’s a fine idea, but considering the flight of foreign workers from Israel after some of them had been kidnapped by Hamas, it’s not realistic.

Justice also insists on establishing a team of CEOs of the relevant government ministries, who would, together with representatives of the AG, monitor the exploitation of workers. They also insist on significantly increasing the resources of the supervisory agencies, including the state attorney’s office, the police, and inspectors of the Labor Ministry.

Needless to say, by the time all the above red tape is sorted out and implemented, half of Israel’s contractors would go bankrupt, and newlywed couples would either plan their future in their parents’ extra room or pitch a tent in their backyard, depending on how well the wife is getting along with Mom.

Now after India had signed a bilateral anti-trafficking agreement, the contractors’ association has already signed with Indian manpower companies and the Indian government to import some 10,000 construction workers from India and Sri Lanka. However, Israel’s Population Authority requires a certificate of good conduct, which in Israel one can get by showing up at the nearest police station. In India, getting such a certificate is a lengthy process that requires official notarization.

It may only a matter of time before Netanyahu gives in to pressures from contractors and the US and ignores his right-wing ministers who object to letting in PA Arab workers.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.