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Spiritual Leader of Israel's African Hebrews Dies

FILE - Ben Ami Ben Israel (C), spiritual leader of African Hebrews, is seen with followers at a celebration May 26, 2010, in the southern Israeli town of Dimona.

The American-born spiritual leader of Israel's African Hebrew movement, Ben Ami Ben Israel, has died at 75.

A movement spokesperson said Ben Israel died suddenly Saturday. The cause of death is unclear.

Ben Israel was born in Chicago. He had what he called a "vision" in 1966 to lead about 400 other black Jews to Israel.

The group arrived in Liberia and migrated to Israel three years later.

Suspicious Israeli officials settled the group in the desert town of Dimona, where Ben Israel's followers struggled to gain recognition as Jews from senior Israeli rabbis and citizenship from the government.

The African Hebrews were eventually given permanent residency, and Ben Israel was granted Israeli citizenship.

The group now numbers close to 3,000.