The Dark Story of Foreign Worker Exploitation In Israel

Jewish Currents reports,

Foreign workers have been widely employed in Israel since the 1980s. In the early ’90s, after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin barred most Palestinians from working inside Israel, foreign workers started arriving in large numbers. Due to closures and security concerns associated with the first and especially the second intifada, Israel began using foreign labor to replace Palestinian workers. In this way, contractors and industrialists gained an even cheaper work force.

While most foreign workers start out with legal permits, many become illegal simply by losing or changing jobs. Because of the high price they have usually paid to come to Israel, illegal workers are inclined to remain simply because they cannot afford to go home.

If an employer is dishonest, refuses to pay, does not honor conditions of employment or subjects a worker to physical abuse, the foreign worker has no power to leave without becoming illegal and risking arrest and deportation. While a foreign worker has the right to request a special permit to change jobs from the Interior Ministry, submission of the permit request is irreversible. If the request is denied, there is no appeal and worker is required to leave the country immediately. What this means is simple: A foreign worker who refuses to continue working under conditions of exploitation and abuse may lose a work permit and become a criminal.

Full story.

37 thoughts on “The Dark Story of Foreign Worker Exploitation In Israel

  1. wow, another israeli blemish discovered. makes you think that israel is as bad as britain, the us, france, germany, australia in the way “guest workers” are treated….mmmm, almost makes israel a “normal” country; except of course for the misfortune of being surrounded by a bunch of maniacal murderers who thrive on butchering little jewish babies.

  2. hey asaf, youre right, i didnt post for quite a while; wanted to see if the infantile leftist stalinitst antiisraeli nonsense you and your ilk spout might lessen over time. it hasnt. and asaf, one other item for you and your stalinist budies; both israel, and america, unlike your beloved ussr of old, practice free speach; you have to give those of opposing views the right to speak their mind. so even though i think you speak utter crap, and your misguided views, if adopted would lead to the destruction of israel, the us, and the west, it is my job as a democrat to defend you right to speak those misguided views. until your views prevail and stalinism reigns, i suggest you give you opponents the same priviledge.

  3. clearly avi, the matter of pursuing justice which was the focus of the reading of eicha this past week went completely over your head.
    a jewish state should be a moral state. i’m not anti-israel. i’m pro-israel. however, i’m against worker exploitation, especially when it’s being conducted by my brethren, lest we ever forget.

  4. ooooh what moral equivalence………bad employment practices in modern Israel and a death camp……what planet are you on? There’s no equivalence there, shame on you. The Israeli government can….and probably will change the laws regarding this issue. To compare it to Auschwitz is disgusting and insulting. Shame on you.

  5. Mr. Mobius, I can see you have joined the team.
    I once looked at an old book by Steven Gaskin (St. Stephen some called him) and one of the pages had a very deep Torah on it:
    “If you see injustice – you see something wrong with the world – then you, my friend, are God’s eyes on the scene and you best drop what you think you are doing and fix it”
    That is a paraphrase. But the core is: You are God’s eyes on the scene.
    Either you are one of the ten spies who is going to bitch about the Land and go back to the desert to wander until you die – or you are Joshua or Caleb who will stay in the Land of Israel and build the greatest society known to mankind.
    Now, I have a blueprint for this project handed down to my great grandfather, from his father, who received it from his all the way back to Sinai. If you believe in its veracity then let us look to it for the answers to this foreign worker travesty.
    We are undoubtedly looking at the Truth from different angles at this point, but if we pursue truth and refuse to prostitute our hearts to smooth-talking spiritual shysters – trying to tell you your birthright is worth nothing but a pot of pottage – then we shall both be Neo-Zionists.
    A Neo-Zionist realizes that its all going down here, at the spiritual ground-zero of the universe and we are God’s eyes on the scene.
    So what are you going to do to alleviate the plight of these foreign workers?
    My answer is Avoda Ivrit, Jewish Labor – but your thought stopping mechanism involves the word “racist” and this is the part where you whip out your earplugs and cattle-car comparison.
    Welcome to Jerusalem, my friend. Grab a shovel and a hoe and get plantin’ – you are bringing the redemption with you to Zion. Thank You.

  6. there is nothing wrong with pointing out problems of things, places, people you love. If, in fact, you truly love them.
    Israel, or any successful Democracy, did not become so by burying her head in the dirt.
    Grow up.

  7. Some remarks unrelated to the original post:
    Why are Jew*School comment forums a bastion for left and right wing overstatements? It’s irritating, and degrades the important debates which need to happen here. I wish a few more passionate centrists/moderates would join the fray.
    Dan, you know how much I depend on you, but the foreign worker issue isn’t comparable to Auschwitz– this is not state sponsored genocide. Please don’t crash my site 🙂
    Asaf, condescending to people with differing viewpoints makes you look small.
    Ezra– I assume you are friends with my old friend Yishai. We’d be far better off if you (and Yishai, and other settlers for that matter) chose to plant and till and build from within the green line. Our land will only be the spiritual haven you describe if its inhabitants learn to love their neighbors and respect one another. Is the fact (or opinion) that the land of Israel was given to the Jews by God paramount to the opportunity to develop peaceful (or at least quiet) relations with our neighbors? If it was given to us, it is up to us to use it to benefit all of mankind– remember, “lo ba shamayim hee,” it is in our hands. I think a much more constructive way to reimagine Zionism is to consider working on creating a Jewish state of which all Jews can be proud, regardless of their differing religious interpretations– that is, a state that respects those and all relgious differences, distinguishes between synagogue and state, and commits to being an Or la Goyim– a gift to the nations– rather than taking the concept of Eretz Yisrael too literally and at the detriment of all of Israeli society. Anyway, tell Yishai that I say hi.

  8. Foreign worker’s rights?
    Granted that some employers (everywhere in the world) are a-holes, the foreign workers accepted Israeli law when they agreed to come here and work in the menial labour they accepted beforehand.
    Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Most workers, do the work, bite their tongue, send the money home, and stay legal the whole time. Others, ‘ma la’asot’ get screwed because of a bad employer or simply because the ‘Israeli dream’ wasn’t what they thought it out to be and merely want to change jobs cuz ‘mat’im li’.
    Once again (after the ISM issue), we really are dealing with Israeli law and why some foreigners people are supposedly above it and think they deserve more.
    your prerogative to point out people being wronged, but you’d do more justice if you provide everyone the ‘big picture’. Will you now post something about how some workers stay here, become ‘illegal aliens’ (as America calls ’em), make families and start demanding equal rights?

  9. i just want to be clear that the picture of auschwitz was of the sign hanging over the gate at the work camp at auschwitz where my grandparents and yours were used as slave labor during the shoah. it was not of the death chamber facilities.
    that’s #1. #2 there’s no spin on that post — i didn’t add any of my own comments. #3. foreign worker’s rights — yes, every human being is entitled to RIGHTS, whether they be legal or illegal citizens, and people who are attempting to immigrate to israel, particularly because of economic opportunity, deserve as much respect as a jew making aliyah, because this is no easy place to live, and of course, unlike with yehudim, no one is footing the bill for their ascent — they’re working for it.
    oh, and josh, in the u.s., illegals are entitled to equal protection, they’re entitled to the courts, they’re entitled to driver’s licenses now, some even get welfare. bush is about to completely lax the policy and give amnesty to thousands of illegals. so… what’s your point? if a person is willing to put themselves at that much risk, clearly there’s a reason for it… if a non-jew loves this place so much that they’re willing to break the law to live here among us, isn’t that enough for you to support them? it’s not like they’re burdening the economy … no, rather, the economy’s burdening them BY EXPLOITING THEM. just like we do when we throw 50 illegals on the back of a truck in the states and take ’em to landscape for $2/hr or wash dishes in some restaurant for the same kind of shit money.
    seriously, why is it that when it comes to the defense of israel’s image, so many of you are so quick to lose your humanity? like, don’t you realize that that besmirches israel’s image infinitely more than the pursuit of justice and the defense of humanity?

  10. Mob,
    you hit the nail squarely on its head. Image. The primary worry of every single leftist I know. Understand this clearly, every single leftist I know (and I work with many) cares much less about Arab rights, the sepration fence/wall, checkpoints, foreign workers, etc… but much more about how ‘we’ look outside, and how we look at ourselves (the old embarrased to be part of the primitive Jewish tribe thing with those black-hatters). Why is Israel supposed to care about image? What other country in this world cares so much about image, Russia, France, Tunisia, Kuwait, Poland?
    As for the US,
    Well if it wants to open it’s borders, good for them. As for the amnesty of illegals, LOL, the last time I heard about this ‘volunteer’ registry, it was to turn around and kick them out. Very much the prerogative of your gov’nt, by the way.
    Here, our society is ‘a bit’ more fragile. Menial, low-paying jobs the world over are usually a good starting point for immigrants and un-educated, but when you totally debase the jobs by turning them into honour-less, dirty ‘foreign-worker’ tasks, or when the illegal ‘foreign-workers’ heavily undercut an upstanding tax-paying Israeli (Jew and Arab), then we have a big, big internal problem. Ex: On Friday, I had a Israeli plumber over to fix the toilet and paid 120NIS including tax. I could have saved tthe 20NIS in tax by not asking for the bill, and I could have saved another 50NIS or more for getting a foreign worker to do the same thing. After he was done, he thanked us profusely for providing him work. He practically cried about how you can’t stay legit anymore and how other plumbers hire a few ‘foreigners’ to do work (there are no legal permits I know of for foreign plumbers).
    When I worked on kibbutz for 110NIS a month (plus room and board), I said thank you. Did I deserve equal rights. No. My room sucked, there were cockroaches, etc… and at any given time, I could break my contract and leave until the end of my tourist visa. The foreign worker should know this too.
    Once again, the big picture; Interior Minister Poraz wants to legalize aliens theoretically because he claims they are contributing to our country. Can you believe that? He wants to honour them for being our slaves. Fine, but after they become citizens, they have to be paid Israeli wages and stop becoming cheap labour, so in reality this idea would simply widen his electorate and the usual racist idea to dilute the Arab demographic problem with non-Arabs (without caring about the societal problems it’ll cause).
    I want Israel to stop EXPLOITING foreigners as well and thank g-d ‘it is’ by cutting quotas, and rounding up illegals and sending them home. The creation of the Immigration wing of the police was a great start and many illegals have since left.
    Stop the exploitation, support legal employees and businesses.

  11. Ronen, avi green’s remarks are more than a “differing point of view”. many of the people here have different points of view and i respect that. his remarks are usually either too personal to be worthwhile responding to, or too general to the point where in the good case the arguments arent arguable or in the worse case they are even racist and hateful.

  12. Mobius:
    “i just want to be clear that the picture of auschwitz was of the sign hanging over the gate at the work camp at auschwitz where my grandparents and yours were used as slave labor during the shoah. it was not of the death chamber facilities”
    Oh, well that’s ok then, why didn’t you say! Wise up…..when was the last time a foreign worker in Israel was shot in the head because his/her work was considered to slow? When was the last time a foreign worker in Israel was kicked to death because they caught a guards eye? When was the last time a foreign worker in Israel had to endure the hardships imposed by the nazi’s in Auschwitz “work” camp?

  13. I agree with most of what Mobius says above.
    (The Nazi argument, on the other hand, is idiotic is far as I’m concerned — comparing everything to Nazis doesn’t help us understand what steps led to Nazism, it just acts as a slur on the thing being compared.)
    That said, I understand and identify with those who are annoyed. When, for years, everything that goes wrong in Israel is eagerly seized upon by those who claim it an illegitimate country long overdue for dismantling — it’s hard not to feel that this is part of that. In other words, there’s a context.
    So it seems to me that one way to move forward is this: if you’re going to try and bring attention to what is, and I think all agree, a situation that’s clearly wrong, maybe the thing to do is to append a note on what might be done about it. As a way of killing two birds, I mean: making the postings that much more thought-provoking, and more sharply delineating the line between Israel-bashing and Israel-policy-criticisin’. Heck, even a third bird or so: connecting readers to already-existing policy critics in Israel, tying diaspora leftists to Israeli leftists.
    Which can’t be a bad thing. But I’m no expert: what associations or groups in Israel are working on this kind of subject? What changes need to be made, and which political parties claim it matters to them? Anyone?

  14. Mobius: You still can’t compare this to Auschwitz, really (I am aware that your picture hangs above Auschwitz I, the labor facility). There is no systematic rounding up, cattle herding and forcing these people to work until they are near or at death– seeing as that’s one of the most potent images in our world, I think it would best be invoked when the situation truly merits (such as the crisis in Sudan).
    Yes, people have rights (including the right to leave when your work permit expires), but people also have to accept the rule of law. Israel should devote its resources to helping those who have chosen legal channels to deal with their predicament by petitioning the interior ministry (it would be nice to see some stats on those petitions btw). Israel has a responsibility to make sure that its citizens aren’t abusing other human beings– but by punishing those bosses, not by providing job relocation services to illegal residents who are also abusing the rule of law.
    Asaf– Yes, Avi’s comments were partly extremist (the second half of his first coment), but condescending will only entrench his viewpoint rather than giving him an opportunity to expand his outlook. He did have a legit point when he noted that Israel’s position on this issue is not so different from other Western nations– why not respond to that?

  15. Ronen, u wrote:
    “He did have a legit point when he noted that Israel’s position on this issue is not so different from other Western nations– why not respond to that?”
    all i have to say is that i hope we havent yet reached the point of moral bankrupcy where we point to other nation’s faults to justify ours (or at LEAST avoid serious discussion of our faults, as avi green wishes).
    take this hypothetical example, for instance: I wouldnt be surprised if after my hypothetical) post about the number of children killed since beginning of intifada by the IDF, avi green would point out to me that in Sudan there is a genocide going on with far more people killed. There is no point to answer such arguments because they deny the possibility of any legitimate criticism against israel by claiming that such criticism is a “singling out” of israel, and thus antisemitic (jut following the dershowitz argument for you as far as i know…). moreover what avi green doesnt seem to realize is that this website is focused on the jews and the Jewish state, Israel.
    if avi green and other anti-israeli propagandists (you see? i can play avi’s rules of the game too) want to engage in serious dialogue, he must respond to mobius’s arguments. so why should i respond in the first place to avi’s argument that totally avoids mobius’s arguments?

  16. and YES – just because western countries treat their workers like shit doesnt mean its ok.
    Obviously. Asaf, my posting above was in response to the type of argument you are making. As someone who was active in Israel, what do you think can be done about this situation — are there associations and NGOs in Israel who are doing something about foreign workers’ rights?

  17. Yes, 8opus, there are some amazing workers organizations in israel doing a great job supporting workers. one of them is kav la’oved, that has an open hot line which supports workers.
    obviously there is the usual tension between the various groups regarding issues such as palestinian labor vs. “local” Israeli labor, etc.

  18. See- that was more interesting discourse. I happen to think that the fact that other advanced countries are facing similar issues, while not a justification for a passive policy, points to the difficulty countries face in dealing with this issue. Clearly, it is not black and white– how do we reconcile the importance of rule of law with a need to protect human rights?
    Sounds like an issue Israel faces often…

  19. indeed the question of immigration and working rights is a global issue not specific to Israel. personally i believe that workers have a full right for citizenship in the country to which they arrive – or at least residence with rights for minimum wage and other workers rights. doing the “black” work of the country, they deserve to have full rights. thus, the situation in which illegal workers are opressed by their employers will dissappear almost completely. more importantly, the problem of local labor vs. foreigh labor will be solved – today many israelis feel disgruntled that foreign workers are willing to work MUCH less than minimum wage and thus are hired before Israelis are. Thus making workers legal not only benefits the workers themselves but the israeli workers as well.
    it is obvious that the flow of workers from poor countries to rich ones is the result of global inequalities. it is true that a government has to prioritize its own people before others. thus, assuming that developed countries in europe, USA and Israel are forced to accept foreign workers as citizens (or at least legal residents with right to minimum wage etc.), it will force the richer countries to establish a fairer policy toward poorer countries, helping them develop their economies and thus fight the inequalities. the result would be reduced immigration and a better world to live in. no more american free trade shit.
    it is obvious that such fair immigration laws will never be created because they are socialist and internationalist in nature. meanwhile the flow of trade will be deregulated, except when it comes to workers.
    these are just ideas i am throwing around, i’d love to hear other opinions because i know these arguments arent fully worked out, to say the least.

  20. oh, and just “lehakdim trufa lamaka”- immigration will be going on, whether you want it or not. but as long as it is illegal, it lets the employers exploit the workers, it hurts local workers who are not hired because they wont work for less than minimum wage (or in a really bad case will work for less than minimum wage in order to compete with foreign workers). workers’ immigration is a symptom of world inequality and must treated in that way.
    damn, for the exact same reasons pot should be made legal 🙂

  21. these are just ideas i am throwing around, i’d love to hear other opinions because i know these arguments arent fully worked out, to say the least.
    I don’t understand the distinction you are making regarding “foreign workers” and other people. This is simply an argument as to abolishment of immigration controls, I think. (But not about abolishing citizenship.
    Which would inevitably lead to some global coordinating body tracking persons who were scooting around and asking for passports from various governments. Sort of like the European Union writ large, maybe.
    The thing about the European Union is that it is only now, for the first time, dealing with sizeable rich/poor inequalities, with admission of all the new countries. As those countries have experienced, EU membership has therefore meant harmonisation to EU laws and policies. More centralised control.
    That may not be a bad thing. But, when you come down to it, it’s not so different than how the IMF and World Bank work … except that the EU laws are perhaps a bit different than those two financial institutions, especially insofar as they deal with wider areas than just governance reforms and so on.
    So, is this really a call for reform of the global financial institutions? Or am I off on a giant tangent — and, if so, which part doesn,t make sense 😉 ?)

  22. ok, lets put it this way – i believe that in order to face the immigration problem around the world today, the richer countries must legalize immigration and give full workers rights to people coming from other countries. I have already mentioned the positive results of such a thing.
    but such a change in immigration law must be a grassroots international initiative, forcing the richer governments to change the immigration law. this might be possible due to the fact that europre, the US and Israel rely on the illegal workers to do their jobs. obviously if such a change in immigration law happens, some kind of international federative organization will have to be created.
    the point here is that immigration is a powerful progressive tool – workers seek to get a better life by working in richer countries. turning this into a political force by forcing europe and the USA to grant rigths to the workers would create a big change in the way the world economy works right now.

  23. “ok, lets put it this way – i believe that in order to face the immigration problem around the world today, the richer countries must legalize immigration and give full workers rights to people coming from other countries. I have already mentioned the positive results of such a thing. ”
    You cant be serious. This would be economically disastrous for the richer countires.

  24. well, jimbo you got a point there.
    but you could look at things this way – currently the rich countries are benefitting off the cheap labour of illegal immigration. that is, the anti-immigration laws are MEANT to be broken for the sake of exploitation of the workers. you can see this in france in the attitude towards the foreign workers which changes in circumstances based on the need for workers.
    so yes, stopping to exploit people doesn’t make sense economically. if 8 hours work, minimum wage, health benefits and many other things that were fought for by workers with blood sweat and tears are considered “economically disastrous”, then you are right. to me these things promise a better future for a whole lot of people.

  25. Youre just being silly. No one has ever considered minimum wage, and 8 hours work days “economically disastrous”, but im sure most would agree that opening boarders would be. Look whats happening in denmark (i think its denmark). 40% of all govt welfare programs are spent on the Muslim immigrants that make up only 4% of total population.
    There is a difference between using illegal immigrants for cheap labor and opening up the boarder. Just because immigration benefits us on a small scale, doesnt mean it will do the same on a large scale. I agree with you that we shouldnt be using/exploiting illegal immigrants. We should be deporting all illegal immigrants.
    In this day and age, there is no rational reason for totally opening up boarders, other than you feel bad for immigrants.
    You have to try to be a little more practical.
    “so yes, stopping to exploit people doesn’t make sense economically. ”
    Are you claiming that opening boarders is the same as “stoping to exploit people”, or the only way to stop exploiting people? I can think of ways to prevent worker exploitation that wouldnt invlove destryoing the economy and changing the landscape of our country as we know it.

  26. Jimbo, you are missing the main point i was making. obviously a situation of “totally open borders” is impossible.
    but governments do not have a consistent policy towards the illegal workers because on the one hand they need those workers, on the other hand they dotn wont to give any rights to them. theere are lobbies in israel fighting against deportation of those workers such as the lobby of the chakla’im (farmers? agriculturists..?).
    thus progressive movements must fight for equal workers rights for all illegal workers. perhaps not for a change in border laws but definitely for a fair and consistent policy against illegal workers. this can put also pressure on governments to invest in third world countries and promote economical development in those places.

  27. “Jimbo, you are missing the main point i was making. obviously a situation of “totally open borders” is impossible. ”
    I only missed that point because you never made that point.
    You wrote (which i thought was your point):
    “i believe that in order to face the immigration problem around the world today, the richer countries MUST (emphasis mine) legalize immigration and give full workers rights to people coming from other countries. I have already mentioned the positive results of such a thing.”
    I dont know where i got the idea that you were promoting legalizing immigration.
    Im not sure exactly what your point it, but if its “exploiting workers= bad, and we should fix it,” then yes, i agree.

  28. In all honesty, foriegn workers can be more thoroughly be exploited through foriegn capital investment but, unfortunately, there are shit jobs everywhere that need to be done.

  29. Asaf,
    Have you thought about the long-term aspects of your open-borders ideas before making such nice, idealistic statements?
    In the past, we accepted the term ‘refugee’, but shouldn’t fine liberals like yourself actually want there to be an end to ‘refugees’ in the first place? Why do we still accept, in the twenty-first centruy, that there are still backwards, dictatorial, oppresive countries and keep condoning the able-worker drain of these places by accepting them (usually the smart ones) in the ‘western world’ instead of encouraging them to stay improve their own societies?
    A great example for all wonderful liberals is my former Quebec. Since Quebec salaries are the lowest on that continent (due to the seperatists who’ve driven out most major corporations and the remaining suckers will accept lower wages to stay in what is still otherwise a decent clean place to ‘live’), there is a massive shortage of doctors in the province.
    So big a problem is it, that the Quebec government is, correct me if I’m wrong, trying to encourage ‘third-world’ doctors to move to Quebec and perhaps, ultimately, get an easy citzenship for them and their families.
    Now what bothers me is the idea that all over the improvished world, there are doctors wishing their patients goodbye because they’re packing up to move out ‘west’. These liberal immigration policies seem to be compounding the problems that liberals are supposed to fight for. Some Sudanese refugee camp is now low on medical staff because they’ve ‘immigrated’ to Quebec. Is that a good idea or what?

  30. The challenges presented by – and to – foreign workers in Israel is something that should be at least discussed by anyone concerned about workers rights, as well as the nature of Israeli society. [I’m saying this, by the way, as someone involved in both Jewish organizational and left-Zionist activities, both professionally and as a volunteer. {See http://www.jewishlabor.org [where I work] and http://www.meretzusa.org [where I am a volunteer, a Vice President, actually.] But I am not writing in either capacity. So it goes.}
    In addition to the article in Jewish Currents, there are regularly articles in the Israeli press, and other press, dealing with foreign workers in Israel, their children, diverse situations of workers’ rights abuses, etc. The Israel section of http://tinylink.com/?Vqn0AlJGXf includes links to as many of these articles as we can find online. Take a look. [Seach for specific countries using tool on left a few units from the top.] If they can discuss it there, people outside of Israel can and should as well. And see what they can to to help improve the situation of foreign workers in Israel.
    There are a number of organizations in Israel that are, to different degrees, working to assist foreign workers in Israel. Here are the results of a quick search online. [OK, I knew of most of ’em already, but hey.]
    In addition to the Histadrut [the General Federation of Labor In Israel – Hebrew website http://tinylink.com/?6hcWJTiHVS ], there are groups such as those below. There are others that I couldn’t find links to, including country-of-origin-specific associations …. some are more significant than others, but I’m not in a position to say at this moment.
    Kav La’Oved
    Association for Civil Rights in Israel
    Bambili Department of Human Rights
    Bambili Help Line for Foreign Workers
    ATZUM – Justice Works
    http://tinylink.com/?gytgdishxu and see http://tinylink.com/?0DakhBdbqY
    Hotline for Migrant Workers
    New Israel Fund [doesn’t work specifically on foreign workers, but this is on the agenda of some of the groups supported by NIF] http://tinylink.com/?NJjQb6nwod

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