Uganda's Tiny Jewish Community Sees Netanyahu as a Bridge to World Jewry

Israeli recognition may offer Ugandan Jews protection from the persecution they have suffered since the 1970's, when the late Idi Amin forbade Judaism and outlawed Jewish practice.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni after arriving to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe, Uganda, July 4, 2016.
Presidential Press Unit via Reuters

Uganda's small Jewish community hopes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit will improve their ties with the rest of the Jewish world, AFP reported Monday as the Israel's prime minister embarked on a five-day visit to the continent.

The community, known as the Abayudaya, was established in the early 20th century by military officer Semei Kakangulu. Followers dwindled in number after he died in 1928, but have grown again since that time.

Last year the Jewish Agency recognized the community, and many look forward to having restrictions lifted so they can study and pray in Israel, community member Israel Siridi was quoted as saying.

Members of the Abayudaya Jewish community hold Shabbat prayers in a Ugandan village on July 2, 2016.
Michael O'Hagan/AFP

Just ahead of Netanyahu's visit, an Israeli rabbi informed the group that Israel's Interior Ministry would "formally recognize the Abayudaya as Jews," community leaders told AFP.

Recognition by Jerusalem may offer the Abayudaya protection from persecution. The late Ugandan leader Idi Amin had turned on the group in the 1970s.

Joab Jonadab, mayor of the group in Mbale, told AFP that: "When Idi Amin was president, he forbade Judaism and outlawed Jewish practice. His soldiers destroyed our synagogue, our elders were thrown in jail, tortured and killed."

Uganda's current president, Yoweri Museveni, follows a much friendlier policy toward the Jews. He's "a good Pharaoh for us," Jonadab said.

Still the community's leader, Rabbi Gershom says: "It is not safe for us to live as a small group of isolated Jews in the heart of Africa. That's why recognition by Israel means so much to us. If anything bad happens to the Jews of Uganda the whole world will know."