Poll: Two-Thirds of Israelis Support Deporting Migrant Workers

An African laborer rides a bike carrying fabric along a main street in South Tel Aviv. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90, File)

Two out of three Israelis support the government’s proclaimed policy of deporting illegal African migrant workers, a new poll shows. The Peace Index poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute shows that 66 percent of Israelis support the policy. Forty-five percent of those polled said they were “very supportive” of the policy, while 21 percent said they “certainly supported” it. Ten percent “certainly opposed” it, while 14 percent said they were very opposed. The poll included 600 respondents as a scientifically determined cross-section of all Israelis

Among voters for the Likud and other rightwing parties, more than three quarters – 78 percent – supported the policy. Among voters of the Labor party and supporters of other centrist parties like Yesh Atid, 35 percent supported the deportations. Only a quarter of voters for leftwing parties like Meretz supported forcing the migrant workers out of Israel.

A campaign in recent weeks against the deportation of illegal African migrants that has gained support of many in Israel’s intellectual and artistic community claims that Israel has no right to deport the migrants because of the history of the Jewish people. In recent weeks, numerous protests have been held against the deportation of the migrants, and numerous petitions and ads signed by Israeli and American individuals from the world of politics and business have implored Israel not to remove the migrants. Soros, a Hungarian Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, has said that Israel, which saw as part of its mission providing a home to Holocaust survivors who had been deported from their homeland, cannot participate in deporting individuals fleeing persecution.

However, the poll shows that only 55 percent of all Israelis said that Jewish history should have any bearing on the matter. Among Jewish respondents, that figure was 60 percent, while 58 percent of Arab respondents said that the Jewish historical experience meant that Israel should not deport the migrants.

In a decision in August, the High Court said that forcibly ejecting the migrants was possible – if the third party country agreed to accept the migrants and adjudicate their refugee cases. According to the report, the new agreement does just that. Last year, the government worked out an arrangement with an unnamed African country, said to be Rwanda, to accept Eritean and South Sudanese migrants from Israel. That country promised to accept the migrants and examine their claims of refugee status, and provide them with employment. Many of the migrants have settled in south Tel Aviv, where Israelis say they have taken over the streets and institutions – imposing a reign of fear on residents and bringing crime and disease into the neighborhood.

Under international law, Israel cannot deport political refugees back to their own country, but they do need to be certified as refugees by Israeli authorities. The government contends that most of the migrants are here to work, not for political asylum, but with a backlog of years in cases to decide whether claims of political asylum are accurate, the illegals effectively are able to stay and work in Israel without a decision being made on their status. Fewer than 50 percent of Israelis said that the government needed to examine the asylum requests before deporting the migrants, while 43 percent said that such checks were not necessary.

On Sunday, the government sent out the first deportation letters to illegal African migrants. According to the letters, the migrants could choose to remain in Israel, in a holding facility, or take advantage of a series of benefits, including cash and a free plane ride, to an African country that had agreed to take them in while their request for asylum, if filed, was considered.

Hundreds of people were set to protest Wednesday outside 20 Rwandan embassies and missions around the world to protest the Israeli deportation, and the willingness of Rwanda to accept the migrants. Organizers of the protest said in a statement that “as Israel begins to distribute deportation notices, thanks to the secret arrangements it has made with Rwanda – that government has consistently denied those arrangements. A choice between prison and being sent abroad is not ‘migration,’ but forced deportation. It is time to speak up and stop denying what is going on. Israel cannot be allowed to dump its responsibilities on Africa.”