A delegation of American black leaders today recommended that the controversial messianic cult, the Black Hebrews, not be deported from Israel but instead be given temporary work permits until their permanent status is determined by the government.
The unofficial study commission, led by U.S. black activist Bayard Rustin, also recommended that the Black Hebrews, who now number about 1,500, cut off further immigration and augment their membership in Israel only by natural population increase.
In a report drafted after 11 days of study, the delegation said that the Israeli government was not guilty of any official racism in its treatment of the cult, as charged by some Black Hebrew leaders.
But the report said that Israeli immigration authorities at Ben-Gurion International Airport often singled out black Americans for "decriminatory treatment" in an effort to stem the flowof Black Hebrews coming to Israel illegally. Many U.S. blacks, the group said, had been summarily deported even though they had no connection with the cult and came to Israel merely to visit holy sites.
The six-member delegation, sponsored by the Black Americans to Support Israel Committee and assisted by three U.S. Jewish organizations, consisted of prominent black leaders who have been associated in the past with projects in support of Israel.
Beside Rustin, who is chairman of the committee and head of the delegation, they are: Alexander J. Allen, vice president of the National Urban League; Lewis J. Carter 3d, labor director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Mrs. Arthur C. Logan, National Council of Negro Women; Dr. Archie Buffkins, Task Force on International Higher Education in Israel. The group also includes a white civil rights activist, Charles Bloomstein, of the A. Phillip Randolph Fund.
Asisting the group here were the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League, although those groups did not associate themselves with the findings of the study.
The Black Hebrews came to Israel in 1968 contending that they are the descendents of ancient tribes of Israel who were exiled to Africa and sold into slavery. A conflict between them and the Israeli government has simmered for more than a decade, touching the nerve ends of the Israeli conscience over such fundemental questions as who is a Jew, and to whom the doors of the Jewish state should be opened.
There have been allegations that the group's leader, Ben-Ami Carter, who calls himself "divine prince of princes," holds sway over his followers with bizarre rituals that recall the Peoples' Temple Cult in Jonestown, Guyana.
However, Rustin's committee drew conclusions that parallel those of a special Israeli parliamentary commitee that recommended that the Black Hebrews should be given legal, permanent status in Israel. The report released today in a press conference did not go quite as far as the parliamentary study, Rustin said, because the U.S. black leaders did not want to "co-opt" decisions by the Israeli government.
The group said that although there are problems stemming from deep-seated religious and political differences, there is a potential in the cult for "very constructive contributions . . . providing extreme and irrational arguments can be modified."
The committee urged that the Black Hebrews, who live in three communities in the Negev Desert, should be allowed to work, and that the government should "immediately establish" procedures for regulating the status of the cult's members.
As for American blacks who have been turned away at the airport on suspicion of being cult members, the committee recommended that nobody be deported until a U.S. Embassy official has been on the scene long enough to determine the reasons for the expulsion.
The committee also urged that immigration officials be trained to handle suspected Black Hebrews with "dignity," and that blacks not be pulled out of line at the airport simply on the basis oc their color.