What will become of the foreign workers' children? Even after the special committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finished up its hearings and issued its recommendations, more than a thousand children still don't know what awaits them after summer vacation.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is slated to make changes to the draft recommendations before they are submitted to the government, would like to deport about two-thirds of the children. Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, who will be one of the ministers to make a final decision on the matter, is adamantly opposed to such a move.
Organizations against their deportation have promised to continue their struggle against the move.
After many long months, the professional committee made up of representatives from a number of government ministries concluded its hearings on Thursday and drafted a list of recommendations.
According to the criteria put together, Hebrew-speaking children listed in the education system, who have been in Israel for more than five years and who parents entered the country legally, will be granted permanent status. Those who don't meet these requirements will be deported within a month of the decision.
"Any deviation from the report will represent unreasonable harm and great injustice for which there is no justification," said Minister Herzog on Friday. "If need be, we will demand a cabinet discussion. Furthermore, the opinion given by the committee is entirely professional and views the benefit of the children as an utmost value."
More than a thousand children of foreign workers are estimated to be in Israel; however, no one is certain of the exact number. Figures on them are collected from infant healthcare centers and other organizations in which they are registered in the Tel Aviv and Arad municipalities. Members of the professional committee also found it difficult to state an accurate number of children who will stay or be deported.
Aid organizations estimate that there are about 476 such children between the ages of three and six, and 462 between the ages of six and 12. According to a document published about a year ago by the Knesset Research and Information Center, data collected from the health and education systems show that there are close to 1,800 children of migrant workers in Israel – 698 below the age of three, 475 between the ages of three and six, and 600 between the ages of eight and 12.
Ball back in Bibi's court?
The secretary-general of the Interior Ministry's Immigration Authority is supposed to review a draft of recommendations and issue a final draft to the interior minister. The secretary-general will not likely change the draft significantly. However, the decision as to which draft will be submitted to the relevant ministers from the education, welfare, and justice ministries is in the hands of Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
According to officials close to the committee, Yishai is advocating for two-thirds of the children to be deported. If the ministers agree with his proposal, it will be brought before the government for authorization, where it will again likely end up on the prime minister's desk.
Incidentally, the Interior Ministry said that should a decision not be made in the coming weeks, more children will join the ranks eligible to remain in Israel according to the criteria stipulated in the committee's recommendations as they register for first grade in September 2011.
Rotem Ilan, who chairs the organization Israeli Children, said to Ynet, "Amongst all the reports, we forget that we are speaking of children for whom each news item published overturns their world. The government is tarrying, and, despite the declarations, all the red lines have been crossed. It is absurd that the prime minister sets up a committee, while the interior minister again decides that he is above the government.
"We call upon the prime minister to take into consideration the emotional world of the children, to take responsibility for a situation that the State created, and make a decision," added Ilan.
Knesset Member Ilan Ghilon (Meretz) responded to Interior Minister Yishai's intentions to make alterations to the professional committee's recommendations.
"Yishai – a weakling when facing Lithuanian Ashkenazim – has suddenly become a cruel sheriff to the children of foreign workers," Ghilon said. "If needed, I will give shelter in my home to all the children he wants to deport."