This article was first published on the Meretz UK website.
Meretz UK Executive Director Daniel Zylbersztajn has met with Sar Elyakeem Ben Yehuda one of the most senior members of the African Hebrew Israelites, who most prominently live in Dimona, Israel as well as in Jerusalem.
Mr Ben Yehuda has in January 2009 become the first member of the African Hebrew Israelites to be granted full Israeli Citizenship, which also extends to his children. Ben Yehuda is currently in Great Britain and Europe to raise awareness about his community and change often false perceptions about it.
Ben Yehuda lived in Israel since 1971. He is a worldly man of high intellect with a friendly approachable manner. He said that the community had grown from its humble beginnings to count now 3000 members, not even counting supporters abroad. He mentioned the various positive projects they were engaged in as a community to both defend Israel’s right to exist to amongst some prejudiced African communities, as well as to promote peace in the Middle East. He said, “some believe we are a cult, but in the 40 years of being in Israel we have proven to be a positive part of Israeli life.”
He was interested in how he and members of the African Hebrew Israelites in the UK could help to improve the image of Israel amongst the wider African communities in the United Kingdom.
He mentioned that the community had met with delegates of the Obama regime, as well as through a member who holds a ministerial governmental post in Ghana. Further that Shimon Peres had recently addressed the community as a positive part of Israel.
In the conversation Daniel Zylbersztajn conceded that whilst Kibbutzim were on the collapse nearly everywhere else in Israel, the African Hebrew Israelites are proving the Kibbutz idea well and alive in their own community and that also significant achievements were made in changing lives around for some people who have become their members. Not only through work in deprived inner city communities in the West but also through worthy projects in the South. He thanked Mr Ben Yehuda for seeking to meet with him and Meretz UK.
A public introductory talk on the African Hebrew Israelites at Meretz is planned for 2010.
The African Hebrew Israelites are a Jewish community of mostly African members (both diaspora and continental) who understand themselves as part of the Jewish People, both by calling, as well as by migratory routes in the past. They study Torah and Jewish Law and live an environmentally aware, naturalist and ethical Jewish life-style. For more information see
Meretz UK supports the rights of the African Hebrew Israelites to settle in Israel. If some supposed birth right migrants to Israel become Neonazis (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6985808.stm) then one can only endorse a group of people that feels so positive about living a Jewish life in Israel and wanting to be part of Israel.
Meretz UK also rejects the idea and fact that the orthodox Ashkenazi and Spheradic rabbinical authorities in Israel, who have political power through representation in the Knesset, should have the sole right to define and decide who is a Jew and who not when it comes to Israeli citizenship.