Three Israelis conducting interviews in Nigeria’s separatist region of Biafran were arrested by Nigerian authorities, Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed.
The three were arrested and interrogated on suspicion of contacting Biafran separatists.
The Israeli Embassy in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, is working with Nigerian authorities.
Rudy Rochman, Noam Leibman and French-Israeli journalist E. David Benaym were in Africa doing research into communities that claim to be Jewish. Some claim to be descended from the 10 Shevatim, and some have converted or taken on practices more recently. There are communities in Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar and Uganda.
Unlike Ethiopian Jews, these groups do not have the substantial mesorah and historical evidence that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate used to determine that the Beta Yisrael of Ethiopia are Jewish. Many of these communities have support from Jewish organizations in Israel and the United States, who will send people to travel to their communities with sefarim and supplies, and spend a few months teaching and advising. Many of these communities have strong connections to Israel.
In Nigeria, the trio were interviewing members of the Igbo, an ethnic group that make up the majority in the southeastern section of the country, several thousand of whom consider themselves to be Jewish and observe mitzvos and the Yamim Tovim. As they do not have a significant mesorah, they are not considered Jewish by most authorities, but a small community has made aliyah and converted through the Chief Rabbinate.
The three men had met with Igbo leader Eze Chukwuemeka Eri and had presented him with art from Israel, and brought a Torah to the community center where davening is held. On social media, they wrote, “We will be making prints and bringing them to our Igbo Jewish brothers and sisters to bring more light to their communities from the Homeland.”
Soon after, they were arrested by Nigerian secret police in the Igbo town of Ogidi. Family members of the men say that Biafran separatists took advantage of the visiting foreigners and took to social media claiming they were there to support and promote their cause, leading to suspicion from the authorities.
Prior to their arrest, the men has posted on social media, “We do not take any position on political movements as we are not here as politicians nor as a part of any governmental delegations.”
In January, fighting broke out between government forces and the military wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, which is still ongoing. Previous attempts by ethnic minorities to break away in Nigeria in 1967 has led to fierce civil war.
Pro-Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu, who was in hiding, has previously claimed the Igbo people are Jewish and their promised land is Biafran. He was arrested by Interpol in the Czech Republic in June 2021, and is facing charges of treason in Nigeria.
Updated Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 9:33 am .