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An open letter to the incoming interior minister

Dear Honorable Minister,

Following coalition negotiations, free of Natan Eshel and other evils, you will be sworn in as Israel’s interior minister. Having seen the hardships faced by a number of Israel’s interior ministers, let us give you three recommendations to ensure that your tenure is pleasant:

1. Don’t let lawyers shape policy for you. As we are afflicted with the severe defect of legal thought and reasoning, let us assure you that the lawyers around you will always try to take the reigns to determine policy and dictate your conduct, under the guise of legal advice (sometimes in the form of binding legal advice). Former attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein provided an extreme example of such conduct with former interior minister Avraham Poraz. When Poraz sought use the authority legally vested in him to decide on the status of migrant workers’ children, who had resided in Israel for many years, Rubinstein interfered and determined, with no legal basis, that it was inappropriate for the interior minister to make a decision on this matter.

Rubinstein’s blatant interference on this matter is in many ways reminiscent of his practice during his tenure as attorney-general to publish public and non-legal opinions on public figures who would not be criminally prosecuted, or his recent conduct as the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, when he disqualified – in an inconsistent manner – certain billboards, as well campaign ads produced by Balad and Otzma l’Israel, simply because they were not to his liking. Granted, the current attorney-general is not likely to interfere on this matter, but previous interior ministers had to deal with senior Justice Ministry and State Prosecution officials.

Relying on lawyers while you are shaping policy is debilitating. What begins as consultations on policy quickly devolves into them dictating legally obligated policy. Therefore, if you want to have any influence in your ministry, make it clear to the attorney-general and his deputies, to the State Prosecution and the legal bureau in the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, that you do not intend to include them in consultations during the policy formulation stage. Make sure to inform the lawyers only after the policy design phase and request that they limit their opinion to one question – legal or illegal. They need not explain why one method rather than the other is preferred or why something is or is not appropriate. They need to state whether it is legal or illegal, and if it is illegal they should explain why and how they propose to implement the policy legally.

2. Drop your predecessor’s racist rhetoric. The interior minister’s dangerous verbosity was prevalent these past four years. So much was attributed to the “foreigners” in Israel: diseases, violence, crime, the destruction of the Zionist dream. Your predecessor believed that lowly rhetoric would attract voters. He was wrong. His party did not gain any additional seats in the recent elections, and may even find itself outside of the coalition. Michael Ben-Ari’s party, which fed into the hatred and racism against “foreigners” in Israel, did not gain a thing from its pathetic statements. In fact, Ben-Ari, who believed that he would find new voters in southern Tel Aviv, was surprised to discover that few in those neighborhoods voted for him. The overt racism is not electorally advantageous (and even if it was, it could not be justified), and it positions Israel as a racist country whose ministers dare say things that would be condemned in the public and political discourse anywhere else in the world.

3. Review a sample of decisions made by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority. The devil is in the details. Even if you overcome the lawyers and are able to advance the policy that you seek, the individual decisions will be made by clerks who have undergone many years of indoctrination, according to which the “foreigner” is an enemy, and everything should be done to prevent him or her from gaining legal status in Israel. You won’t be able to understand how the Interior Ministry implements your policy if you don’t review random Population, Immigration and Borders Authority decisions. When you review them, you’ll find that woe be unto an Israeli who dares marry a foreign partner. Partners will face many obstacles until they are granted permanent status in Israel (that is if they are granted status). You’ll find that over the course of three years the Interior Ministry granted one person refugee status, as the system has become abusive, does not properly uphold the Refugee Conventions, and leads to the deportation of individuals to countries where their lives are in danger. You’ll find that your ministry randomly jails thousands of asylum seekers in conditions that are not suitable for human beings. You’ll find that the Interior Ministry strips migrant workers, who were brought to Israel to work in the hardest sectors for minimum wage (or less), of their status simply because they had the audacity to fall in love and be in a relationship. You’ll find that same-sex couples who seek to establish their status in Israel are treated as second class citizens because they can’t get married. You’ll find that your ministry tears families apart – parents, partners and children – because they are Palestinian. You’ll find that despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of the policy that binds migrant workers to their employers, in practice the Interior Ministry makes sure to create a link binding the workers to their employers in a manner that infringes on individuals’ basic rights as employees. If you randomly review the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority’s decisions you’ll find that if the political leadership does not monitor the bureaucratic echelon, nothing will change.

Good luck.

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