David Bedein

Let Their People Go: Why Glorify the Quasi Enslavement of Migrant Workers ?

May 1: The worker’s holiday. Placards distributed by Israel’s national labor federation, also known as the Histadrut, call on workers in Israel this year to march on May 1 under the banner “WE ARE WORKERS, NOT SLAVES.”

Israel’s workers now compete with a non Jewish migrant worker population of Israel who are enticed by contractors to work in quasi-slave-like conditions, below minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits

Indeed, non Jewish migrant workers are easy prey for easy profits.

And as of this Israel Independence Day, the migrant worker population has reached 163,615 people, a figure which includes the children of the migrant workers.

Across the globe, civil liberties organizations and their allies in the media fight to put an end to the phenomenon of the exploitation of migrant workers who are paid dirt wages with no benefits.

Indeed, a CBS documentary that aired when I was a boy, fifty years ago, HARVEST OF SHAME, did wonders to shake the conscience of people throughout the United States to the horrific working conditions for migrant workers in American agriculture.

Yet in Israel today, civil liberties organizations and their allies in the media fight for migrant workers to remain in such conditions in Israel.Their only worry that the migrant workers may be sent back to their home countries.

What civil liberties organizations and their allies in the media have ignored is what the contractors who exploit the migrant workers have also hurt working person in Israel who would like to make an honest living,

When my younger son finished the IDF three years ago, he was ready to take any working job, so long as he would earn something, before he decided where he would go for advanced studies.

He went from place to place, shocked that the wages offered were below the minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits. What he heard from contractor after contractor was that they have “adjusted” their pay scale to the migrant workers, who seemingly can live below the minimum wage, with no social or medical benefits. One contractor actually offered my son a wage of 17 shekels an hour, ten hours a day, with no benefits. A migrant worker indeed took the job instead.

When our family vacationed for a few days in Eilat, we were surprised to hear that more than 8,000 migrant workers now dominated the Elat hotel field, throwing Israeli Jews and Arabs out of work.

On one evening in Eilat, a taxi driver took us to visit a makeshift village for the migrant workers that was acquired by the migrant worker contractors, where hundreds of migrant workers and their families lived in crowded conditions.

While we were there, we witnessed migrant workers listening to a course on Israeli civics.

An American Jewish group had hired social workers to teach the migrant workers about how to become Israeli citizens.

And if the migrant worker population continues to expand – and there is every reason that we can expect that it will grow – the migrant workers might form a political party which will eventually assume ascendancy in Eilat, whose total population is only 49,000. This has geopolitical implications, since the Egyptian Parliament, five years ago, declared that Elat is an Egyptian city, which must be returned to Egypt. A Sudanese mayor of Elat may be amenable to such a proposal.

What about law enforcement in Elat? Why does the Israeli government not simply dispatch ship to its southern port city and transport the migrant workers back to their nations of origin?

Paying a visit to the Elat municipality, workers in the Elat Mayor’s office said that the Israel Ministry of Justice had decided not to enforce the law in Elat, and that they were playing hands off the situation of the migrant workers in Elat.

Our news agency dispatched a letter to the Israel Minister of Justice asking why that was.

The office of the Israel Minister of Justice responded that he received the letter, with no response to the question about the lack of law enforcement over migrant workers in Elat.

So there you have it. The Israeli government does not enforce the law and allows illegal migrant workers to establish a foothold in Israel.

Contractors of the migrant workers play it smart, by hiring top PR firms who issue daily releases to the media which charge that if the Israeli government will enforce the law against migrant workers, this will represent an act of racism and discrimination. The contractors also contribute to the civil rights groups who advocate for the migrant workers to remain in Israel.

Therefore, migrant workers wit no legal status in Israel are able to unfairly compete with Jewish and Arab workers in the Israeli labor market, thanks to the exploitation of well connected Israeli contractors, who influenced the Israeli government to not enforce the law against migrant workers.

When the law is not being enforced, people take the law into their own hands.

Hence, the violence against the migrant workers of late.

Perhaps people should vent their anger against the high profile contractors of the migrant workers, who manipulate thousands of aliens to work under quasi slave like conditions, inappropriate to the spirit of social justice on the First of May.

My grandfather, Harry Bedein, a life long socialist, buried in the Workman’s Circle cemetery in Boston, would have agreed.

About the Author
David Bedein, who grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Israel in 1970 at the age of 20, is an MSW community organizer by profession and an expereinced investigative journalist. In 1987 he established the Israel Resource News Agency, with offices at the Beit Agron Int’l Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also serves as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research. In 1991, Bedein was the special CNN middle east radio correspondent. Since 2001, Bedein has contributed features to the newspaper Makor Rishon. In 2006, Bedein became the foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. He is the author of " The Genesis of the Palestinian Authority" and "ROADBLOCK TO PEACE- How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA policies reconsidered"and the director and producer of the numerous short films about UNRWA policy which can be located at: