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Help the children save the children

Seventh-graders Lance and John have lived in Israel their whole lives -- won't you join their classmates in protesting their deportation?
Illustrative. Social activists and foreign workers take part in a 2012 protest in Tel Aviv, against the Interior Ministry's decision to deport hundreds of families of foreign workers. (Roni Shutzer/Flash90)
Illustrative. Social activists and foreign workers take part in a 2012 protest in Tel Aviv, against the Interior Ministry's decision to deport hundreds of families of foreign workers. (Roni Shutzer/Flash90)

It’s happening again. Over 100 Israeli-born and bred children of migrant workers are about to be expelled in the next few weeks in yet another wave of xenophobia — this time in the midst of a new election season. This round, the campaign against their deportation is being led by their classmates, Israeli children, who are just celebrating the bar and bat mitzvahs and are begging their teachers, their parents, and the Israeli public at large to abide by their own teachings and support their demand to keep their friends — whose mothers came to Israel to work as caregivers for the elderly and the infirm from the Philippines, India, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Nepal and a variety of other places — in the country.

Today, Monday, June 24, 2019, they will gather at 5 p.m. in Habima Square to protest against what they view as a cruel, counterproductive and immoral policy. Join them to save the children and to salvage our own heritage and humanity.

At the beginning of this calendar year, there were close to 115,000 migrant workers in the country. Some 67,000 — the vast majority of them women — are employed as caregivers. They provide succor for the elderly and help attend to the disabled — often around the clock. By law, they are not allowed to engage in intimate relations during their stay in the country. Should they get pregnant, they are required to leave within three months after giving birth or send their newborn back to their home country if they wish to continue to work in Israel. It is hardly surprising — and only natural — that several of these women nevertheless fell in love, had children and decided to stay here while continuing to work for the families that enjoy their services — even when they no longer have formal status in the country (according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 11,484 domestic workers are currently residing in Israel illegally).

There are, at most, about 1,500 migrant-worker mothers in Israel today. Many of their children have secured permanent resident standing through arrangements carved out over the past decade and more. In 2006, the Ministry of the Interior decided, under pressure from civil society organizations, to allow children of foreign workers who arrived in the country before the age of 13 to remain and complete their education (their parents were protected for the duration). In 2009, the then Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, decided to tighten procedures and sought the immediate expulsion of these children and their families. A widespread uproar ensued, with citizens from all sectors protesting the eviction. In 2010, in the wake of the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee, the Netanyahu government passed Directive #2183, which — under protest from Minister of Interior Yishai — granted permanent resident status to some 800 children either born in Israel or brought to the country at an early age and who were enrolled at least in first grade. Another 400 who did not meet the cumulative criteria elaborated in this decision were forced to leave by 2012. Since then, many of these children have completed their education, some are serving in the IDF and then remain in the country.

Now another group of children, most of whom were under the age of 5 during the last arrangement, are being compelled to leave. As Israel grants citizenship by blood (jus sanguinis) and not by birthright (jus soli), they are considered to be intruders and are being forcibly expelled at this time. This creeping extradition, like its predecessors, is propelled by a mixture of extreme ethnonationalism and fear of outsiders. It is being overseen by yet another ultra-Orthodox Shas-party leader, Arye Deri, who insists that he is only carrying out the law. His timing, however, is less than innocent: faced with yet another election in which he must rally potential voters to his cause, he is not averse to playing to his electorate at the expense of a handful of youngsters who have spent their entire lives in the country, speak only Hebrew and see themselves as Israelis.

Binyamin Netanyahu’s current transitional government, itself anxious to consolidate its appeal among its religious-national constituency, has steadfastly refused to intervene. The roundup of migrant workers’ children, for them, is yet another means of broadcasting their adherence to Jewish supremacy in Israel. From this perspective, it is a subtle prelude to unbridled attacks on Israel’s minority Muslim and Christian citizens — a mainstay of the right in all recent election campaigns.

There is something inherently un-Jewish in this policy. It goes against the Jewish injunction, repeated 36 times in the Torah, that commands love for the stranger in one’s midst (“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt,” Leviticus 19:34). It also contravenes one of the most important lessons of Jewish history over the centuries: the reliance on the goodwill of others to receive (and return) solace in extreme circumstances.

It is the children who are reminding their elders of these fundamental dictates of human compassion at this time. United Children of Israel, an organization founded by Filipina mothers, foresaw the summer deportation. This past Purim, they demonstrated against the impending expulsion. They now call on all Israelis to help prevent its implementation. “They are Israelis in all their being, Scouts, pupils in Israeli schools, children who dream in Hebrew and for whom the culture of the countries to which they will be sent is totally alien to them — they don’t even speak their languages…Please, help us raise the voices of the children. They love Israel with all their hearts and Israel should show them that it, too, loves them.”

The Israeli classmates of these children have rallied around their cause. In their pure and principled way, they are speaking out against the injustice of the deportation. Last week, 600 middle-school students at Gymnasia Herzliya, one of the foremost schools in the country, demonstrated against the forthcoming expulsion of two of their seventh-grade classmates, Lance and John, who have lived here all their lives. They are standing up for their friends as a simple act of human solidarity against what to them is a profound and incomprehensible wrong.

They are not alone. This afternoon, they will be joined at Habima Square by schoolchildren from numerous Tel Aviv schools, where potential deportees have studied for years: Balfour, Gavrieli, Tel Nordau, Gratz, Yehuda HaMaccabi, Givon, Droyanov, Ironi Aleph, Hayovel and the Democratic School. Members of Israel’s Scout movement, parents, teachers and sympathizers will also be there. In the words of the parents’ association to the Minister of the Interior, they will be crying out for a policy reversal. “In the Tel Aviv school system there are children whose mothers are migrant workers. They were born in Israel, they speak, play, sing, study and dream in Hebrew. Just like our children. Like all of our children. These children are the schoolfriends of our children. Their mothers came to help our grandmothers and grandfathers, disabled people, the sick and the crippled; they contribute substantially to our society on a daily basis…We appeal to you make arrangements to protect their rights. There are only several dozen children. Find a solution which will allow them and their mothers to live in safety, without fright or fear, and enjoy the basic rights that every child deserves.”

Come today if you only can. In any event make your position clear. Following in the footsteps of our children, we Israelis today, as in the past, will not countenance the uprooting of children born here and who are an indivisible part of us. Extracting them from our midst would be akin to severing a part of our being. This is not the Jewish nor the human way to treat the strangers in our midst. Not yesterday, not today and not at any time in the future.

About the Author
Professor Naomi Chazan, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and professor (emerita) of political science at the Hebrew University, is co-director of WIPS, the Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
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