African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem - Status in Israel

Status in Israel

Ben Ammi and 350 of his followers first settled in Liberia in 1967. In 1969 they began moving to Israel, entering the country on temporary visas that were periodically renewed. As their numbers grew, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel ruled that they were not Jews, and therefore not entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. This was compounded by their refusal to convert, as well as their insistence that most Israeli Jews are not genealogically related to the ancient Israelites.

Members of the group continued to arrive and settled in the desert community of Dimona. For two decades, their population continued growing through natural increase and illegal immigration. Throughout the 1970s Tensions between the group and the state of Israel grew as the group faced low employment, inadequate housing and attempted deportation, while the state considered them illegal aliens. Ben Ammi accused the government of racism and usurping the holy land, while claiming that "The greatest conspiracy ever conceived in the minds of men was the creation of National Homeland for Jewish People.". In 1973 the International League for the Rights of Man rejected the group's claims, stating that the Hebrews made little attempt to comply with the citizenship laws of Israel. In 1981, a six person Black Americans to Support Israel Committee delegation assessed all aspects of the community's treatment and concluded that racism was not the cause of their problems. Although the leader Bayard Rustin called Ben Ammi "a dictator" without "the same moral standards as democratic leaders", the others disassociated themselves from this.

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They are not considered Jews in Israel. The Israeli government refused to grant the group citizenship, while occasionally pursuing deportation.

In May 1990, the group reached an agreement with the government whereby they were granted tourist status with a (B/1) Visa that entitled them to work; in 1991 they were given temporary resident status (A/5) for a period of five years, which in 1995 was extended for another three years. At the beginning of 2004, the group was granted permanent residency status by the Israeli Interior Ministry. In 2009, Elyakim Ben-Israel became the first Black Hebrew to receive Israeli citizenship. The Israeli government said that more Black Hebrews may be granted citizenship.

In sports they have represented Israel at home and in Europe in track and field and national softball events, including the Maccabiah Games. Their students have and still represent Israel in international academic competitions at the highest levels. Members of the community have represented Israel in two Eurovision song contests.

In 2004, Uriyahu Butler became the first member of the community to enlist in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), and by 2006 more than 100 of their youth were serving in the IDF in regular units. The IDF agreed to accommodate some of their dietary and other religious requirements.

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