People belonging to the Ibo tribe of Nigeria are not Jewish, according to a ruling handed down by Israel’s High Court of Justice last week.
As a result of the ruling, an estimated two million members of the tribe do not have the automatic right to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship under the country’s Law of Return, a right reserved under Israeli law for Jews worldwide.
The ruling came in response to a petition filed by Chima Edward Onyolo, an Ibo who has been living in Israel for six years and is married to an Israeli woman.
As the husband of a Jew, Onyolo is entitled to recognition and permanent residence in Israel under the Law of Return, which also applies to the relatives of Jews.
But Onyolo sought recognition as a Jew himself, saying his tribe had historical links to Judaism.
He cited several customs practiced by the Ibo – including circumcision on the eighth day after a male is born – which are identical or similar to Jewish religious customs. But the Ministry of Interior told the court that it had consulted with rabbis and scholars and could find no convincing evidence pointing to an Ibo-Jewish connection.
The Ibos came to international attention in the 1960s when they sought to break away from Nigeria and form their own separate state, Biafra. After a bloody civil war, they were forced back into union with Nigeria.