A Fake Offer of Assistance
Updated: Mar 3
(March 3) “If you require any assistance, legal or otherwise, we would be willing to help you….I hope and pray that you and your daughter can make Aliya at the earliest possible opportunity to fulfill your dream and that of your forefathers to return to Israel. If there is anything else that we can do to assist you, please feel free to contact me directly.”
So wrote Michael Freund, the Chairman of Shavei Israel, in an email to Sarah Baite, the widowed mother of a raped daughter whose story, come to light in recent months, has shaken the B’nei Menashe community.
Freund’s words were written on January 21, at the conclusion of a letter in which, declaring that “my heart goes out to you and your family,” he sought to defend Shavei against charges that it was complicit in covering up the rape and in putting the alleged perpetrator of it, a Shavei crony, on an Aliyah list for Israel, where he now lives.
Baite answered Freund’s letter by email on February 9 after emerging from the hiding she had gone into to avoid threatening phone calls from Sehjalal Kipgen, Shavei’s Manipur administrator, and from others acting at his behest. (Kipgen warned Baite that she would have to face the consequences if she did not withdraw the complaint against the rapist that she had made to the Churachandpur police.) Replying to Freund’s offer of assistance, Baite wrote back:
“You write, is there anything you can do to assist me. I will tell you three things, You can depose Sehjalal Kipgen from his position. You can tell your lawyers to have the rapist be sent back to India for facing trial or stand for trial in Israel. And you can promise me that I will make Aliyah soon so that I will not have to wait any longer.”
That was nearly a month ago. Today our Newsletter asked Baite whether she had heard from Freund. It was not easy to get hold of her, because she had gone to a patch she tends in the fields, where there is no cellphone reception, to pick vegetables to sell in a Churachandpur market, and she could only be reached when she arrived at her stall there. Her concise answer:
“Not a word!”
Baite, who ekes out a living by selling her vegetables and working for farmers in their rice fields, then spoke at greater length. “Michael Freund is a very smooth talker,” she said. “I suspected from the minute I received his letter with its offer of help and sympathy that he only wrote it because he felt forced to.
All of Shavei’s top officials were involved in trying to cover up the rape of my daughter and he thought he had to do something to defend the organization. His letter to me, which he publicized right away, was no more than a show to impress those who read it. Its words were very nice, but there wasn’t a bit of sincerity in them. They were a lie.
“Who am I to Michael Freund?” Baite went on. “I’m nothing to him and I know it. On the one hand, he sends me a letter offering help and sympathy. On the other, he ignores all my requests and goes on backing his Shavei administrator, Sehjalal Kipgen, who threatened me because I’m seeking justice for my daughter and myself after all the suffering and humiliation that we’ve been through. Michael Freund is simply not trustworthy. I hope the government of Israel and all concerned will learn from this what kind of a person they have put in charge of the B’nei Menashe.”