(JTA) — Israel has ordered the departure of 46 families belonging to the community of African Hebrew Israelites within 60 days.
Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda, a spokesman for the community, told The Associated Press on Monday that the Interior Ministry’s order was a “shock to the system.” The ministry said the deportations could be appealed.
The community of 3,000 stems from a migration of African-Americans from the Chicago area in the late 1960s. The status of the community was in effective limbo until 2003, when the ministry granted some members citizenship and others either permanent or temporary residency. Others were left without status. The criteria used by the ministry are not clear.
Also not clear is why the ministry waited until now to order the deportations, which it said applied to those who did not meet the criteria in the 2003 decision.
Some members of the community, also known as the Black Hebrews, have served in Israel’s military and attended Israeli schools.
The community, which resides mostly in Israel’s South, considers its members to be descended from the Tribe of Judah and maintains some traditional Jewish practices.