Editorial

Yoel Tegen’s Choice

Yoel Tegen
Ilan Assayag

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an effort to attract votes from the Ethiopian immigrant community, agreed two weeks ago to bring 400 Falashmura (descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity) to Israel in an expedited fashion, contrary to professional opinions, so that they would arrive here before the March 2 election. But away from the microphones the authorities continue to implement their real long-term policy, which includes the expulsion of residents who have set down roots in Israel, who work, pay taxes, speak Hebrew and whose children were born and grew up here.

That’s why Yoel Tegen, 12, a Jewish Israeli citizen who lives in Petah Tikva, is now being forced to make a terrible choice: Live as an orphan in his native land, or go to Ethiopia with his father and the father’s new family.

Yoel’s father, an Ethiopian national, immigrated to Israel 17 years ago and married a Jewish Israeli woman. He began the naturalization process, but it ended when they divorced. The father, who has been living in Israel as a legal temporary resident, has since married an Eritrean asylum seeker, with whom he has two additional children. A year ago, he applied for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds, but last month the request was denied.

Four years ago, Yoel’s mother took Yoel and her daughter from a different man to the United States to visit her brother. She had the consent of both men to travel with her children, but it soon became clear that she mother didn’t plan to return to Israel. After a lengthy legal procedure in Colorado, the children were returned to Israel, and the Rishon Letzion Family Court awarded Yoel’s father full custody of the boy.

Now the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority is using Yoel’s time in the United States to help justify not granting his father residency. “[Yoel] ... spent quite a long time with his mother, was exposed to a foreign culture and language and will acclimate to living in the applicant’s country of origin or another country,” wrote population authority head Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef in his refusal of the father’s residency application. This argument is ridiculous.

The logic behind the expulsion of a minor Israeli citizen can be seen in the agency’s response. “After examining all the circumstances, including the fact that a whole family unit has been established here that is not entitled to status in Israel ... it was decided not to approve the father’s status and that the entire family will leave Israel.” The Population and Immigration Authority presumably feels it appropriate to sacrifice a Jewish child if it means reducing the non-Jewish African migrant community by four people. Anything to preserve the purity of the Jewish nation.

On Wednesday, several Likud officials, Petah Tikva Mayor Rami Greenberg and MK Gadi Yevarkan wrote to the Interior Ministry demanding that the decision be changed. One hopes that Interior Minister Arye Dery will indeed reverse this racist and discriminatory injustice.