Politicians Implore Israeli Government to Halt Deportation to Ethiopia of Father of Israeli Boy

Mayor of Petah Tikva, where the boy lives, and Ethiopian-born former MK Gadi Yevarkan made the request on behalf of the father, who is raising the boy alone

Yoel Tegen
Tomer Appelbaum

Petah Tivka Mayor Rami Greenberg and Ethiopian-born former Knesset member Gadi Yevarkan said on Wednesday that they have asked Interior Minister Arye Dery to intervene to prevent the deportation to Ethiopia of the father of 12-year-old boy Yoel Tegen, who lives with his father in Mayor Greenberg's Tel Aviv suburb.

In addition, Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata (Kahol Lavan), who was also born in Ethiopia, has approached the director of the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, on the matter.

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Yoel’s father, who is not Jewish, immigrated to Israel 17 years ago and married a Jewish woman about four years later. After marrying, he began the process of becoming an Israeli citizen, which was stopped when the couple divorced.  The 12-year-old cannot be forced to leave Israel because he is a citizen. He said he doesn’t want to live in Israel without his father, who has custody of the boy, nor does he want to live in Ethiopia. His mother lives in the United States.

Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that the Population Authority had ordered that Yoel Tegen's father be deported by the end of the month, in part on the grounds that his mother lives in the United States and that "he will adjust" to life in Ethiopia with his father.

Mayor Greenberg called the case one exclusively involving the best interests of the child, "an Israel with the same equal rights of any other citizen of the country … who is a 7th grade student and has lived in Israel since the day he was born." The circumstances, Greenberg said, require that the deportation of the father be reconsidered.

Demonstrators in support of Yoel Tegen
Tomer Appelbaum

"To my knowledge, this is an exceptional case and therefore I intend to act vis-à-vis the relevant officials at the Interior Ministry to have them thoroughly reexamine [the case] with meticulous consideration of the interest of the child – and his interest alone," Greenberg wrote.

For his part, Yevarkan stated: "Israel is the national home of the entire Jewish people. At the same time, the State of Israel is also the home of a boy, Yoel Tegen, and his family." Yevarkan, a former Kahol Lavan Knesset member, is running in next month's Knesset election on the Likud slate in the spot reserved for the Ethiopian community, after he quit Kahol Lavan last month.

"Yoel is not responsible for the nature of his parents' relationship and there is no reason that his life should be damaged beyond the disruption that he has already experienced from his parents," Yevarkan said, adding that he is conferring with Interior Minister Dery and the Interior Ministry to determine what can be done to assist Yoel and his family.

On Wednesday, about 100 children demonstrated outside Petah Tikva's Ahad Ha'am junior high school, where Yoel Tegen is a student. The protesting children carried signs with the slogan "You don't separate a father and son." The demonstration was organized by Yoel's schoolmates and by the Hanoar Haleumi youth movement, to which he belongs.

"I am only asking that Dad stay here as usual," Yoel told Haaretz on Wednesday. "I am not only asking. I am begging. I don’t know what to do to ask [this] of you. I don't understand what Dad did wrong that they are deporting him. He is a normal person. He hasn't done anything. I just want to go to school and be with my best friends as usual."