Ethiopian student battles to make aliya

Jewish Agency gave him a scholarship, now Israel wants to deport him.

mulugeta 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mulugeta 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A young Ethiopian student, who has spent the past year at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, is set to be deported within the next two weeks, despite claims that he can prove his Jewish heritage and hence his right to make aliya under the Law of Return. Alexander Mulugeta, 26, who is studying Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC's International School and also received a $10,000 scholarship from the Jewish Agency for Israel's MASA program this year, has found himself at the heart of a bureaucratic squabble and finger pointing. "It is all really confusing and I just don't get it," Mulugeta, who speaks fluent English after graduating from one of Addis Ababa's top schools, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. "I have relatives already living here who came on Operation Moses (1984-5) and who even share the same Jewish grandfather as me, how come they are eligible but not me?" Mulugeta said that since family members moved to Israel more than 10 years ago they have been petitioning the government to allow him and his parents to immigrate under the Law of Return, which allows any person with at least one Jewish grandparent to move here. When he was accepted last year to the IDC study program in Israel, Mulugeta said he jumped at the chance hoping that once here he could easily kick start the complicated aliya process faced by many Ethiopian Jews. However, Interior Ministry officials last month rejected his application for aliya, claiming he had falsified information and was not, in fact, eligible for aliya. He now has less than two weeks to leave the country. "They said I had made a false statement in Ethiopia about being Jewish but we have documentation handed out by officials there stating that we are Jews," he said. In a hearing held this week by the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora on the subject of Ethiopian Jews entitled to make aliya under the Law of Return, it was estimated that hundreds of families here were fighting to bring their relatives to Israel. Their situation should not be confused with the controversial status of the Falash Mura - Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity under duress more than a century ago - who make aliya under a special clause in the Law of Entry and are obliged to undergo a Jewish conversion. Regarding Mulugeta's specific battle, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabene Hadad confirmed to the Post that his application for aliya had been denied by the office. She blamed the decision on a report compiled two years ago by the Jewish Agency for Israel stating that Mulugeta and his family's Jewish roots were unclear. "We have documentdancersation from JAFI saying that his application to make aliya under the Law of Return was denied on July 7, 2006," she said. A JAFI spokesman, however, said that no such report existed and that "it was not the Jewish Agency's role to determine who is eligible for aliya under the Law of Return but rather the responsibility of Interior Ministry officials in Ethiopia." He added that JAFI only facilitates aliya after applications have been accepted by the Interior Ministry, pointing out that Mulugeta's initial entry into the country using a tourist visa must have been approved at some point by the Israeli consulate in Addis Ababa. "It is not easy for Ethiopian citizens to receive tourist visas from the consulate," he said. Mulugeta confirmed that the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa had approved his entry into Israel as a tourist and advised him that he would be able to either apply for aliya once here or obtain a student visa to complete his studies. "I gave up a place at my college in Ethiopia to come here and further my education," he said. "Now they are telling me I must leave but I am not a quitter and will not give up." At IDC, a spokesman said that Mulugeta's case was known to officials but that the college was powerless to influence the decision of the Interior Ministry. "We can't help people fight for their right to get legal status here," said the spokesman, adding that the institution had attempted to vouch for Mulugeta's right to be here as a student. "Whether he is Jewish or not is irrelevant for us," he continued. "We accept people based purely on academic merit."