The families of the three Jewish filmmakers detained for days by Nigerian authorities; and accused of aiding a separatist rebellion led by Nnamdi Kanu; have claimed that the men were giving a Torah scroll to a small Jewish community in southern Nigeria; a gift as a token of thanks.
Furthermore, the Jewish filmmakers claim to have been working on a documentary; about far-flung Jewish communities in Africa.
The Jewish filmmakers arrived in Nigeria on July 6, according to their Instagram feed; and traveled to Ogidi with the Torah scroll as a gesture of thanks.
But a statement from the families of the detained crew on Thursday, July 15, said separatist activists have taken images of the filmmakers; giving the Torah and appropriated them to support Biafran independence.
“Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have hijacked for their own purposes images of the filmmakers gifting a Torah to a local community,” the statement said.
“These individuals are distorting the intentions of the filmmakers; in an effort to manufacture a connection to local political matters when no such connection exists.”
1st News learned that the filmmaking team arrived in South-East Nigerian amid a secessionist campaign by the Indigenous People of Biafra that has embroiled its small Jewish community and led to multiple raids on synagogues.
But the filmmakers have said repeatedly that they have no political agenda and only want to film a documentary on the country’s Jews.
Rudy Rochman, Andrew Leibman, and Edouard David Benaym were arrested while in synagogue Friday evening in the southern Nigerian Igbo village of Ogidi, according to The Times of Israel. The filmmakers reportedly were taken to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and are being held there.
According to the families’ statement, the U.S., French and Israeli embassies in Nigeria are working to get the filmmakers released.
“We hope that the DSS will quickly conclude what the facts support; that the filmmaking team has no political motives; and that the team should be released from custody as soon as possible,” the families’ statement said.
According to a 2019 report on the community in the publication Ozy, Nigerian forces repeatedly raided synagogues in 2018; apparently searching for separatists; and once arrested more than 50 Jews who called for an independent Biafra. In 2018, Kanu fled to Israel to escape government harassment.
In Nigeria as a whole, it was reported that there are 10,000 Jews among a total population of more than 200 million; a number that the publication said had doubled within the previous five years. A 2013 estimate by an earlier documentarian had estimated the number at 3,000.