Ethiopian-Israeli leaders protest arrival of American ‘missionaries,’ say community is targeted

Ethiopian-Israeli leaders say state knowingly permits missionizing of community, demand change.

By Atara Beck, Senior Editor, World Israel News

Avraham Yaldai, former vice-chairman of the umbrella organization of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, was the first in his community to speak out publicly against what he describes as missionary activity targeting Israelis of color.

Back in Africa, for many generations there were continuous attempts to convert the Jewish community to Christianity, but “what is different now” is that it is being done in Israel, “in an official manner, in such a manner that the State and its institutions know, and there is no opposition on their part,” Yaldai told Rabbi Tovia Singer, a leading counter-missionary.

“This is a very serious matter,” Yaldai said. “The way I perceive things, what amazes me is that the power, the authority, has been given to the missionaries, and the government, the Chief Rabbinate, all these bodies have abandoned the community, have cast the community into the hands of Christians and missionaries…who do what they want.

“Wherever there is weakness, wherever there is a problem, that is where they act…and it pains us greatly that in the Land of Israel, even in the Land of Israel, such a thing happens in the name of democracy, liberty…freedom of religion…

“By the way, 200 meters from here [in the southern city of Ashdod] is a church of Jews from Ethiopia who converted here.”

The rabbinic leadership in the Ethiopian community is now taking a stand. Rabbi Reuven Wabshat, Chief Rabbi of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel, issued a strongly worded letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, Minister of Religious Affairs Rabbi Yaakov Avitan, Religious Affairs attorney Oded Plos, Deputy Minister of Public Security Gadi Yavarkan, and Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata. The latter two are Ethiopian-Israelis.

In the letter, Rabbi Wabshat attacks the government’s apparent complacency in allowing missionaries with “talent and great experience” to live in Israel and influence Jews to believe in Christ. He refers specifically to Bishop Glenn Plummer, who was appointed by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) as Bishop of Israel, and his wife, Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer. The couple arrived in the country in late summer and were granted residency.

According to Wabshat, their purpose is “to hunt down innocent souls among our [Ethiopian] brothers” and convince them to accept Christ as the messiah.

“Their real intentions, as stated, are to pave the way for missionary activity,” he states.

World Israel News (WIN), in a recent interview with Bishop Plummer, asked how he managed to obtain permanent residency in Israel.

“The government allowed us to come,” he replied. “That’s it. I don’t know these people. The government. I mean, there are departments. I don’t know…”

In an interview with Haaretz, “Plummer was not forthcoming about how he and his wife succeeded in obtaining permission to come to Israel at this time. ‘At this point, it would probably be best if I didn’t go into it,’ he said. He also refused to say what type of visas they’d received.

“In response to a request for comment,” Haaretz continues, “a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said she wasn’t at liberty to discuss individual cases because of privacy issues.”

Plummer categorically denies that he came to Israel to missionize Jews, although he concedes that if asked why he believes that Christ is the messiah, he would explain why.

The reason he came, he told WIN, is to build bridges between African Americans and Israel. His plans include the opening of a media institute in Israel where young black Americans could study while learning about the country.

“The Ethiopian story is probably the lead story for us to communicate to black America,” he said. However, “there’s a problem with these young black Israelis, these young Ethiopian Israelis….

“Israel has the same challenges here [as in the U.S., concerning racial tensions] with young millennial people,” he claimed.

“We’ve made friends in that community,” he said. “They look at me and they think I’m Ethiopian, by the way. They don’t think I’m Nigerian, which is interesting, because there are different looks…”

Two African American converts to Judaism who have made Aliyah, rapper Nissim Black and former football celebrity Calvin [Yosef] Murray, are incensed by such statements. According to Murray, the Plummers are “playing the race card.”

“Color means nothing to God, to Torah, or to Judaism,” says Black.

“More rabbis in the Ethiopian community are beginning to speak out as well,” Shannon Nuszen, of Beyneynu, a non-profit organization that monitors missionary activity in Israel, told WIN.

Nuszen said that COGIC, with the participation of Bishop Plummer, has established at least five churches within the Ethiopian community since 2015.