Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia talks refugee policy, political career


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Belaynesh Zevadia, the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia. Zevadia defended Israeli refugee policy at a talk on Tuesday.

Amy Li, Reporter

Belaynesh Zevadia, the first Ethiopian immigrant to serve as Israel’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, took part in a heated conversation Tuesday with Evanston community members and Northwestern students on the African refugee crisis in Israel.

During the conversation in University Hall, Zevadia addressed current debates surrounding Israeli refugee policy and the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile — which Ethiopia has been working to build despite objections from Egypt. While the diplomat said the Blue Nile is a necessary natural resource for Ethiopia, she “hope(s) (the issue) resolves in a peaceful way.”

Zevadia said the diplomatic relationship between Israel and Ethiopia is crucial to the development of both countries. She described Africa as “the future of the world” and said the adversities the continent has faced in the past have become lessons for the future.

Israel’s African refugee deportation crisis also became a topic of heated conversation. In January, Israel passed legislation ordering all African refugees to leave voluntarily or face imprisonment. Zevadia said there has been an unwarranted spotlight on Israel’s refugee policies in Western media.

“We are doing it like any other Western country is doing it — like Sweden, like the United States,” Zevadia said.

Some audience members disagreed with Zevadia’s defense of Israel refugee policy.

Weinberg junior Aaron Boxerman, who previously wrote for The Daily called Zevadia’s explanation “what-about-ism,” which he described as an attempt to distract from the immorality of an action by calling out others who are also behaving immorally.

“It might be true that the U.S. media unfairly singles out Israel, but that does not say anything about whether this is the right thing to do morally,” Boxerman told The Daily.

During the conversation, Zevadia also talked about her unique upbringing and diplomatic career. Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, Zevadia immigrated to Israel at the age of 17.

Zevadia told the audience immigrating to Israel was difficult because she was alone while her parents and siblings stayed in Ethiopia. Her father believed that an opportunity to send his youngest daughter to study at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel should not be passed up, Zevadia said.

The diplomat said she is the first and only Ethiopian woman to return to her home country as an Israeli ambassador.

“I remember when I presented my credentials to the president, who was 89 years old and sitting in a wheelchair,” Zevadia said. “He said, ‘It was my dream to see someone who was born here come back.’”

Although Boxerman said his political views differ from Zevadia’s, he still enjoyed the conversation.

“I think the ambassador is clearly a historic figure with a lot to say and a fascinating personal story,” Boxerman said.

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