The African Hebrew Israelite Community--a group of African Americans founded by a Chicago cabdriver who believe they are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel--was given permanent resident status by the Israeli government Monday.
The group, commonly known as "Black Hebrews," immigrated to Liberia in 1967 and then relocated to Israel about two years later.
"To be recognized at the very highest level speaks volumes . . . for the consistency of the community to maintain the highest level of integrity and credibility inside the country as well as outside," said Prince Asiel Ben-Israel, the community's international ambassador, who resides in Chicago and Israel.
Ben-Israel said the government's announcement means that the 2,500 African Americans who now live in Dimona and two other towns in southern Israel will be able to continue breaking ground for a new community to include 300 new homes, a sports facility, child development center and school.
As permanent residents, the Hebrew Israelites also will be able to serve in the Israeli army, according to a statement from Interior Minister Avraham Poraz. The decision was made after the recommendation of a committee established in the late 1990s. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellinson said that under normal ministry practice, permanent resident status would lead to full citizenship after an unspecified period of time.
Prince Asiel Ben-Israel said he spoke with the group's founder, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, Monday morning. "He was thanking almighty God for continuing to show his favor with us," Prince Asiel Ben-Israel said.
The community--which has come under criticism for its lifestyle--believes in polygamy and encourages a vegan diet. According to the group's Internet site, they hope to create a lifestyle where solutions are found to "the seemingly irreversible problems that plague mankind--rampant disease, drug abuse, sexual abuse, corruption, ecological destruction and disintegration of family unity."