Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting, "We don't want to create an incentive for an inflow of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers into the country."
The decision was backed by 13 ministers - including Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom, Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Lieberman, Stas Misezhnikov, Sofa Landver, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Benny Begin, Yaakov Ne'eman and Avishay Braverman. Ten ministers voted against it - including Gideon Sa'ar, Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Shalom Shimhon and all Shas ministers. Four ministers abstained: Isaac Herzog, Limor Livnat, Gilad Erdan and Uzi Landau.
During the stormy discussion, Minister Ben-Eliezer (Labor) shouted, "This isn't the Jewish state I know, expelling children out of it."
He added, "This is not the right time for the world to see the State of Israel deporting 400 children. We must set clear rules, from now onwards.
The committee had ruled that children who meet five criteria would be allowed to remain in Israel together with their parents: The child studied during the past year in Israel's state school system, is enlisted for the upcoming school year in the first grade or higher, has lived for five consecutive years or more in Israel, and, if he was not born here, arrived before the age of 13. In addition, the child must be a Hebrew speaker, and his parents must have entered Israel on a valid visa.
The government decided to ease the conditions on Sunday by adding a clause stating that the interior minister would consult the inter-ministerial committee on borderline cases.
Before the vote, Netanyahu told his ministers, "If this proposal does not pass, I will present the original proposal, which is much more harsh and dramatic. The proposal I have presented here includes easements." Following this statement, some of the ministers changed their mind and voted in favor of the proposal.
Sa'ar explained to Ynet why he had voted against the decision. "With the absence of an exceptions committee, which would prevent the deportation of students who should not be deported for just causes, I could not vote for this decision as the education minister."
'We proved public can make a difference'
According to estimates, most of the 1,200 children would be forced to leave Israel following the decision, either because they do not meet the criteria or because they won't be able to meet the relatively short deadline – 21 days – for submitting all the documents proving their eligibility.
The Israeli Children organization said in response to the decision, "We have proved that the public can make a difference and that ordinary citizens can change government decisions.
"We welcome the government's moral decision to give children legal validity in their own home, but call for the same morality towards all the children expected to fall between two stools."
The organization stressed that the children expected to suffer from the decision were kindergarten kids and other children who "will fail to meet impossible bureaucratic demands."
The Hotline for Migrant Workers also viewed the decision in a positive light, but urged the government to extend the deadline for applying for eligibility to more than 21 days.
The organization said such an extension would prevent a situation in which children who are eligible to receive a legal status and meet all the criteria are deported from Israel simply because of bureaucratic difficulties in presenting the official documents.
Yaehli Moran Zelikovitch contributed to this report
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