Aharon Gottlieb
Don't lose sight of the bigger picture.

The trend of bending the rules

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Israel has begun to deport foreign nationals that are illegally in the country even though they originally arrived as legal migrant workers. Generally speaking, these are mostly nurses and caregivers from the Philippines who overstayed their visas. A number of them gave birth while in Israel and accordingly the deportation orders include their children given that under the laws of Israel, Israeli citizenship is not acquired on the basis of the place of birth. For this reason, the children are deemed to be in the country as illegally as their mothers.

The deportation orders attracted criticism within Israeli society, leading to demonstrations. Now, several leading Israeli businessmen wrote a joint letter to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to stop the deportation of these non-Israeli children born to migrant workers in Israel. It is unclear what Netanyahu can actually do. After all, when an Israeli prime minister is sworn in, he promises to bear allegiance to the law.

This case is one more indication of a dangerous trend that has become increasingly popular in Israel: the trend to either bend rules or break laws or, alternatively, to cherry-pick when a law should apply based on one’s personal emotions, no harm intended. A democracy based on the rule of law, however, does not work in this manner. The law is not a prize draw and the law is not optional. Indeed, disregarding for a moment (or not) the purported humanitarian aura ascribed to the letter sent to Netanyahu, the inappropriateness of the request made to the prime minister to interfere with the application of the law, or maybe bend it, is patent. In addition, it seems to assume that Israel is reigned over by a ruler entitled to do as he pleases, without any accountability, a country without a system of checks and balances, where compliance with the law is not rewarded.

Simply put, an action that does not follow the law is an illegal action. Where the rule of law is upheld, it is presumptuous to choose who deserves the law and who deserves a circumvention. It may all seem very humanitarian, but ultimately the inevitable end result of the trend of bending rules, breaking the law or cherry-picking is a corrosion of the legal system. The legal system becomes unreliable, with the consequential deterioration of democracy and human relations in society. To make it worse, the mindset prevailing in this alarming trend appears to prevent functional solutions, such as, in this case, asking the Knesset to amend or scrap the respective immigration laws.

Experience shows that the law we fail today is the curse of tomorrow. So much for the humanitarian narrative. The crisis faced by Israel at the moment as a result of correctly banning the entry of two US congresswomen engaged in BDS has precisely the same roots. In fact, since the law banning persons engaged in BDS was enacted, its application has been quite erratic. It comes as no surprise that the likes of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and potentially other stars of BDS and antisemitism, such as Jeremy Corbyn and Roger Waters clearly feel that they can get away with whatever conduct and should expect a red carpet at Ben Gurion airport.

Not long ago, US student Lara Alqasem, a notorious BDS activist, won in our courts a waiver of the letter of the 2017 law. Alqasem was the president and vice-president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Florida, advocating BDS and, therefore, the annihilation of the State of Israel. Upon her arrival in Israel, a deportation order was entered and she was given a few alternatives by the Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, including publicly renouncing BDS or returning to the US. Trusting that our system had been contaminated by the law bending and cherry-picking trend, Alqasem chose not to publicly renounce BDS. She appealed her deportation order and the courts rewarded her Israel-bashing activism with the right to enter the country and take advantage of the Israeli education system.

With precedents like this that show the law being applied on a case by case basis, why would the Israel-obsessed lawmakers from America not plot a win-win plan that would allow them to harm Israel whatever the outcome? Cherry-picking when to apply the law yesterday had rather regrettable consequences today.

Still, the trend is so strong and the humanitarian narrative is so appealing that this unfortunate story cannot simply end here. Afraid to be perceived as its detractors will denounce it in any event, after banning her entry, the State of  Israel agreed to give Tlaib a humanitarian waiver of the 2017 law so that she could visit her grandmother – the woman who appeared on national television cursing the Israeli prime minister – in Judea and Samaria. This gave Tlaib a second opportunity to play the victim and bash Israel and she did not miss it.

The intended message is simple in essence. As a people, we are blessed with good hearts – Israel is often the first country to offer aid in humanitarian disasters. The challenges faced by our country are many – we are the only country whose very right to exist is frequently threatened. We will often be tempted to act emotionally to defend humanitarian causes. However, there is no shortcut to do the right thing. Bending a rule on occasion may seem the most effective way to achieve noble goals, except it is not and the consequences will bite us tomorrow.

About the Author
Aharon Gottlieb is a lawyer by profession. He has a special interest in the interwoven areas of national and international security, intelligence, defense and foreign policy. He writes about life in Israel and current events that are relevant to Israel and the Jewish people. In early 2018, Aharon immigrated to Israel, which has added further meaning to his life.
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