Is there a link between Israeli profits, anti-African incitement?

As Interior Minister Eli Yishai incites against African asylum seekers–leading to outbreaks of violence against Africans–his ministry issues visas to foreigners who pay tremendous amounts of money to come to Israel.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai has called African asylum seekers “infiltrators” who threaten “the Zionist dream,” adding, “Jobs will root them here.”

But if foreigners are such a threat and jobs will root them here, then why does Yishai’s ministry continue to issue work visas to migrants?

It could have something to do with the fact that the manpower agencies—the companies that turn huge profits by importing foreign workers—have a strong lobby in both the Knesset and Ministry of the Interior.

But, wait, what does the MOI have to do with manpower agencies? Doesn’t the MOI just issue the visas and handle deportations?

In 2009, there was a major governmental restructuring that changed the supervision of both migrants and the manpower agencies that recruit them.

Rivka Makover was once the manager of the registration department in the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Labor. From 2004 to 2009, Makover supervised the licensing of manpower agencies, shutting down hundreds of those agencies over shady business dealings.

While Israeli labor law stipulates that agencies can charge approximately 1,000 US dollars for arranging jobs and visas, many charge far more. Chinese laborers have reported paying as much as $30,000 in fees. Indian workers usually pay upwards of $10,000; Filipinos between $5000 and $10,000.

In 2009, Makover’s position was eliminated, her responsibilities transferred to a body under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior—putting all the power related to migrants in the hands of the MOI.

Since the restructuring, employees at both Kav LaOved and the Hotline for Migrant Workers say that enforcement of labor laws regarding manpower agencies has become noticeably lax, with some complaints against manpower agencies going completely ignored.

Maybe that’s because the MOI has been too busy issuing work visas. In 2009—the year that Israel announced it would deport children of migrant workers; the year that the government began inciting against African asylum seekers; the year that the Oz Unit attempted to take Africans out of South Tel Aviv—27,000 new migrant laborers entered Israel on state-issued work visas.

In 2010, the state embarked on a campaign against asylum seekers, including advertisements in which actors claimed that foreigners had taken their jobs. But, in 2010, Israel actually issued more work visas to bring more foreigners than it had in 2009, granting 32,000 new migrants work permits.

According to MOI spokeswoman Sabine Hadad, an additional 11,000 legal migrant workers arrived in Israel in 2011 on state-issued work visas. 2012 has seen the state bring 2300 new workers. While both 2011 and this year have seen significant drops in the number of new workers, the question remains—why bring them at all? Why not allow Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers—groups that cannot be deported and that are forced into unemployment and homelessness—to work?

Further, the current number of legal migrant workers stands at nearly 75,000. As migrants typically get 63-month work visas, it’s safe to say that most of these 75,000 have arrived in the past five years—the same time the country saw an influx of African asylum seekers. There are now between 45,000 and 60,000 African asylum seekers here. If the state wasn’t so intent on bringing new workers, if the state would draw from the existing labor pool, each and every one of those asylum seekers could have jobs. They wouldn’t be sitting around in parks in South Tel Aviv.

The big difference between those Israel gives work visas to and those that don’t? Those that pay the manpower agencies, a powerful group that has close ties to the MOI, get work visas. Those who don’t pay don’t get work visas. It’s that simple.