The Interior Minister has been actively discriminating against this community, and against African American Jews in general
Last Wednesday, 50 members of the African Hebrew community in Dimona received letters ordering their deportation within the next 60 days. This announcement came as a shock to them and the other approximately 85 members of the community whose lack of official status in the country has been under review by the Ministry of Interior over the past year. It came as a shock, not only because of their complete cooperation with the Ministry in an effort to normalize their status as contributing members of Israeli society, but also because after decades (for many after a lifetime) in Israel, they will lose the only home they have ever known.
Unfortunately, this effort is only the most recent iteration of what appears to be an agenda of active discrimination against members of the African Hebrew community. An animus that has perennially threatened their continued existence in the State of Israel, and has extended its hostility to African- American and Caribbean American Jews attempting to visit or make Aliyah.
Despite being initially welcomed with open arms and given citizenship in 1969 under the Law of Return, by 1970 the law was changed. The then 400 souls who were previously sent to settle the Negev alongside Moroccan and Indian Jewish new immigrants, were then stripped of their citizenship and exposed to multiple episodes of arrests and deportations in 1973, ’85 and ’86.
This produced an atmosphere of mutual animosity between the community and the government; animosity that sparked international outrage and the involvement of African-American and Jewish-American politicians to cease the deportations. The deportations ended, and what followed was an uneasy period of neglect that persisted until the Second Intifada.
At a Bar Mitzvah in 2002, a member of the community, Aharone Ellis the community’s first male child born in Israel, was murdered by a Palestinian Arab terrorist in cold blood. This event awakened a much-needed spirit of brotherhood and a period of reconciliation ensued, which resulted in the then Minister of Interior, Avraham Poraz, granting the majority of the community permanent residency with a path to citizenship through military service in 2003.
Since then, the African Hebrew community began an explicit effort to integrate into Israeli society. As the late leader of the community, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel stated in an interview in 2009, “We are not neutral when it comes to the State of Israel, we are an integral part of the State of Israel. We would do whatever is necessary to defend Israel.”
On the part of the government, through the efforts of the Herut movement and then Minister of Interior Gideon Sa’ar, the right to citizenship was extended to the parents of those who served; and plans for expansion of the African Hebrew community in the city of Dimona were suggested.