Israel to deport German woman after suspected ties with missionary group

Tel Aviv, Israel - Israeli authorities have ordered the deportation of a German student who claims she is a victim of government persecution of missionary groups.

The government insisted Thursday that Barbara Ludewig, 33, is not being kicked out because of missionary activity, but because she has resided in Israel illegally for five years.

However, her lawyer, Michael Decker, said she is in Israel illegally because the ministry rejected her valid application for a student's visa, and didn't act on her appeal for years.

Two letters on ministry letterhead that Decker sent to The Associated Press had clear references to Ludewig's alleged missionary activity. The last was dated April 28.

And several years ago, the ministry interrogated Ludewig about her ties to missionary groups and Messianic Jews — suggesting those ties are the real reason her request for a student's visa was denied, Decker said. Messianic Jews, also known as Jews for Jesus, accept Jesus as their savior.

There are an estimated 10,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel.

While Israel maintains close ties and receives significant political and financial support from Christian evangelicals abroad, the government frowns on missionary work. Proselytizing is only illegal, however, if minors are targeted or if payment is offered to induce someone to convert.

In an interview, Ludewig rejected the government's claims that she has handed out missionary flyers and maintains a missionary Web site. She said another woman by the same name runs the site.

Ludewig, who was born to practicing Christian parents, said she lives "as a Jew" and has begun conversion proceedings that the ministry has blocked. Asked if she described herself as a Messianic Jew, she said she was still exploring her religious identity.

She completed a B.A. in philosophy in Israel and currently is doing a master's degree in religious studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The university said its rector has appealed to Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit to be allowed to stay to complete her studies.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said student visas are not issued after a person arrives in Israel. Hadad said Ludewig could have received a visa if she had left Israel and requested entry from abroad. Now, she says, Ludewig will be barred from Israel for 10 years if deported.

While acknowledging the existence of the ministry letters that Decker forwarded, Hadad insisted Ludewig wasn't ordered deported because of missionary activity.

Last month, immigration police arrested Ludewig at her home in an early morning raid and jailed her for four days, releasing her only after she bought a one-way ticket out of Israel, she said.

An administrative court ordered her to leave by the end of the month, but she tentatively planned to fly out shortly after midnight Thursday ahead of the Jewish Sabbath.

Ludewig said she was "worried that a government ministry could make decisions based on erroneous information without checking, and based on stories by people who don't me and aren't true."