Finance Minister Roni Bar-On is preparing a plan to rid Israel of all illegal immigrants within five years, Ha’aretz reports. The story did not state that Bar-On will then escape Israel in a flying saucer piloted by three-eyed green men, but it could have. Bar-On has about as much chance of ending illegal economic immigration to Israel as he does of the flying-saucer get-away.
As the excellent Hebrew blog Laissez Passer, devoted to immigration and refugee issues, notes today, 8.5% of the Israeli workforce now consists either of labor immigrants and Palestinians from the occupied territories. With drastic efforts, the government may reduce that number temporarily, and then it will bounce back.
Economic immigration is the other side of globalization. We can produce clothes more cheaply some place and ship it here. We cannot, however, ship our backyards to China to be gardened, or our buildings to Thailand to be built, or our elderly to the Philippines for 24-hour care. Like every other Western country, we globalize by letting the third world come here to do that work. One way that we keep the price of that labor down is by keeping much of the immigration illegal; illegal workers accept less pay because they have no one to whom they can complain. Not that those with papers would get much respect if they complained about working conditions.
Every Western country exists in some degree of denial about this dynamic. Societies that seek cultural homogeneity engage in greater denial, because the economics work toward a multicultural reality. So Israeli politicians pretend they will send foreign workers home. The result is often violation of the human rights of those who have come to wash our windows and toilets. The recent Israeli movie Noodle (Hebrew trailer here), about a Chinese boy stranded in Israel when his mother is picked up by immigration police and sent home, could be placed in two dozen other countries, but it is reasonably placed here.
There are no perfect solutions. It would be far more reasonable for Bar-On to initiate discussion of immigration policy – an issue now dealt with through massive psychological repression – and to seek action to protect the pay and rights of non-Israeli laborers. Enforcing the labor laws for Israeli workers might also do some good. This, too, is as likely as Bar-On escaping by flying saucer (though that escape would also serve the public weal).