The article originally appeared in the Times of Israel
Complaining is often synonymous with Israeli culture. We enjoy kvetching about our country, our leaders, our quality of life. But as it turns out, our situation is not so bad. After all, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from Africa fled here. There is no comparison between our standard of living and the harsh everyday experience of the countries that surround us (especially to the south and the east).
It is worth mentioning that, in my experience, when asking Arabs living within our borders whether they would prefer to remain Israeli citizens if a two state solution were to emerge, all give the same twofold answer: “Of course I would rather be an Israeli citizen,” and “Please keep this between us and do not quote me.” The second statement is quite illuminating, because it indicates not only a complete lack of freedom of expression, but a real fear to express a controversial political opinion on the other side of the Green Line.
After the construction of the security fence, real estate prices in the Old City and East Jerusalem skyrocketed, in some cases surpassing prices in western Jerusalem. Arabs gradually began moving to western Jerusalem neighborhoods to ensure that they would be able to stay in Israel. People will go to extreme measure to live on this side of the border. Maybe we shouldn’t complain about our economy, society, and security when, in fact, the situation is significantly worse in areas not far away.
I believe that one of the main reasons for the significant influx of foreign workers to Israel is the existence of the “rule of law.” The common definition of the rule of law says that citizens and government are equally subject to the law. Citizens are free to engage in any occupation they choose as long as the occupation in question is not illegal, and if it is they will be caught, arrested, and duly penalized.
Since rule of law is alive and well in Israel, the president cannot rape whomever he will just because he is president; the army cannot point their weapons at whomever they want because they’re the army; parents cannot send their children to work in factories instead of attending school because they are the parents; husbands cannot beat their wives because they are the husbands; and employers cannot employ workers at little or no cost just because they are the employers. This may sound obvious, yet the opposite is the sad reality in most countries whence these foreign workers have come.
One of the many benefits of the rule of law is that it creates significant business certainty. Everyone knows the rules of the game: how much tax to pay on specific items, and how to conduct certain transactions in order to reduce taxes. All employees know the minimum wage, and know that if their wages are not paid properly, there is a labor court where employers will be held accountable. Certainty creates trust, and trust is the foundation of any growing economy. This, among others, is what makes Israel such a desirable destination for so many foreign workers.
However, in the context of illegal foreign workers, the rule of law is, in practice, a double-edged sword. The same legal framework that makes Israel a desirable safe haven, also determines that people are not allowed to live or work without an appropriate visa status. That’s just the way it is. With all due sympathy for the dismal situation of illegal foreign workers, if we allow just anyone to settle and work here illegally, simply because he or she desires to do so, the rule of law will disintegrate. Hence, the government is obligated to deport illegal workers from Israel; not because they are unequal before the law, but exactly because they, along with all Israeli citizens, are equally subject to it.
Even if most of us reach the same conclusion regarding the necessity to deport illegal immigrants, it is important that we approach this in a way that does not violate their dignity and human rights. The intimidation campaigns that describe these people as an “epidemic” that needs to eradicated are not only shameful, but they will eventually endanger Israel’s public order. All human beings are worthy of respect, and since the real reason for their deportation is to uphold the rule of law in Israel, rather than prejudice or bigotry, we must make the deportation process as dignified as possible. If we wish to maintain our quality of life, it is important to not only to maintain the rule of law but also to apply it with respectfulness and compassion.