280 B’nei Menashe To Leave For Israel Next Week Amid Protests against Manipulation of Aliyah lists
(May 21) 280 B’nei Menashe from Manipur will be leaving for Israel next week, Shavei Israel’s Manipur administrator Shlomo Kipgen announced on May 16 over the organization’s WhatsApp news portal Shavei News2. The group will set out on the first leg of its trip in three contingents, slated to fly from Imphal to New Delhi on May 24, 25, and 26.
All of the 280 come from the “2016 Dayyanim Interview Pass List,” drawn up by Shavei Israel and representatives of Israel’s Rabbinate five years ago. Since then, no more B’nei Menashe have been approved for Aliyah by Israel’s government. Of the 722 individuals on the 2016 list, 252 reached Israel last December and are now living in the Lower Galilee city of Nof ha-Galil. The remaining 470, plus children born to them since 2016, were recently authorized by a government decision to make Aliyah this year. In addition to the 280 now setting out, a second group is scheduled to fly to Israel three months from now, our Newsletter has learned from sources in Israel’s Ministry of Immigration.
A dark shadow, however, hangs over all this. 107 names from the 2016 list, belonging to 19 families, so it was charged this week by Manipur’s B’nei Menashe Council, have been struck from it. These 19 families comprise that part of the 2016 list that has publicly stated its allegiance to the Council, which has been in a state of conflict with Shavei Israel since its election in a community vote last November. Shavei has refused to recognize the BMC’s legitimacy and has repeatedly threatened its supporters with removal from the 2016 list – and now, since not a single member of the 19 families has been included in the group of 280, Shavei is obviously is carrying out its threats. “A quick look at the list of the 280,” says Ohaliav Haokip, the BMC’s General Secretary, “shows that Shavei is doing what it said it would. It has played pick-and-choose with the original ‘Interview Pass List,’ selecting whoever has been loyal to Shavei and crossing out the names of whoever stuck with the BMC.”
Protesting this development, an anti-Shavei demonstration was held by the 19 families in Churachandpur this week at the Beit Shalom synagogue, the city’s largest. The families held signs calling for a fair and transparent Aliyah process not subject to Shavei’s cronyism and discriminatory practices.
Anti-Shavei protest in Churachandpur
In respond to the protest, Shavei Israel’s Information Secretary Eliezer Baite issued a Kuki-language statement condemning it. The Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe, Baite declared, was Shavei’s exclusive domain and no one had the right to interfere in it. “Israel’s government and the Jewish Agency have handed the Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe to Shavei Israel,” the statement read. “Only Shavei will have a say in it…As for transparency, Shavei Israel does not owe it to anyone. Everyone knows all they need to know.”
Baite’s statement appeared to represent Shavei Israel’s interpretation of an agreement recently arrived at with the Jewish Agency [see our May 11 article “Jewish Agency to Join in Bringing B’nei Menashe to Israel”. The Agency’s role in B’nei Menashe Aliyah, Shavei holds, will be merely an adjunct one that leaves all substantive decisions to Shavei itself.
The statement also included the admission that the names of BMC supporters have indeed been struck from the Aliyah list. “The present Aliyah list,” it said, “may not be the previous Aliyah list because there are some people and their families who have taken back their passports from Shavei, in effect refusing Aliyah.”
“This is an outrageous lie,” says Ohaliav Haokip. “In the first place, Shavei had no business collecting and holding these passports years before the current Aliyah was undertaken. But quite apart from that, what it says simply isn’t true. Of the 19 families, all deposited their passports with Shavei a long time ago. Two of the 19 asked for them back but then returned them to Shavei a second time, while the other 17 never saw their passports again after initially handing them over. The passports of all 19 families are still in Shavei’s possession and the BMC knows where, at last report, they were being held – unless since then they have been destroyed or thrown away. Shavei has invented the story of the passports being returned as a pretext for eliminating the 19 families from the current Aliyah list.”
Following up on Haokip’s charges, Degel Menashe chairman Hillel Halkin turned to both the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigration for clarification. The Agency declined to comment. Almog Moscowitz, Senior Adviser to Minister of Immigration Penina Tamano-Shata, wrote back:
“It is possible that the  individuals you mentioned will make Aliyah in the second round [that is slated to depart in three months] and has not been excluded from the list.”
In reply, Halkin pointed out that there was no statistical chance that all 107 “just happened” to have been assigned to the second group. Clearly, he said, their total exclusion from the first group represents deliberate Shavei policy, as is borne out by the fabricated story of the “returned” passports.
“The passports have simply been stolen,” Ohaliav Haokip insists. “If necessary, we’ll go to court to get them back.”