Israel’s cabinet split over deporting 350 Turkish workers

Permits of Turkish construction workers may not be extended in wake of government dispute over apology to Turkey for raid on 2010 Gaza flotilla.

The disagreement between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman over whether to apologize to Turkey for last year’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla has turned into a much broader conflict over the continued employment of 350 Turkish workers by the Israeli construction industry.

The question of extending the Turks’ work permits is expected to reach the socioeconomic cabinet in the next few days.

Lieberman - Fattal - July 20, 2011 Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a press conference, July 20, 2011.
        Photo by: Michal Fattal

The workers received their permits as part of an agreement between the two countries’ defense ministries. Under the agreement, signed during Ariel Sharon’s term as prime minister, Israel Military Industries received a contract to upgrade Turkish tanks and Israel agreed to give visas to 350 Turkish construction workers employed by the Turkish firm Yilmazlar. But now, for the first time, the Foreign Ministry objects to renewing the work visas.

Foreign Ministry sources said that Yilmazlar’s owners recently established a political party that has an anti-Israel platform.

The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry also objects to the extension, saying that many of the workers have been here for over five years. Thus even if the agreement with Turkey is extended, either the workers themselves or the company should be replaced, Industry Ministry officials said.

The Defense Ministry is fighting to extend the visas, saying any change would damage Israel’s already dismal relations with Turkey, as well as IMI, and could lead to a suit for compensation by Yilmazlar.