B’nei Menashe Voters in Israel Lean Heavily to the Right
Updated: Mar 18
(March 17) If next Tuesday’s elections were be to decided by Israel’s B’nei Menashe, the pollsters could confidently predict a landslide for the Right. Indeed, in talking this week to prospective B’nei Menashe voters from all over the country, from Kiryat Arba in the south to Afula and Migdal ha-Emek in the north, our correspondent couldn’t find a single person intending to cast a ballot for a party of the Center or the Left.
Most popular by far was Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud. “It’s in our interest to have a right-wing government, and I don’t think there’s a better party to lead it than Likud,” said Ovadia Pachuau, 71, of Afula, in a typical answer to our correspondent’s questions. “True, Likud won’t be able to form a government on its own. It will have to join hands with other, similarly-minded parties. But when I look at potential leaders. I don’t see anyone capable of replacing Bibi at this time. A vast majority of our community feels the same.”
Meir Lotzem, 54, of Kiryat Arba agreed. “As a community,” he told our correspondent, “we have traditionally voted Likud. I myself am no different. I’ve always identified as a Likudnik. It’s in my blood. It’s in all of Kiryat Arba’s B’nei Menashe. And it’s not just them. I’ve talked to friends in the north. The mood there is solidly Likud, too.”
It’s that mood that sways Elitsur Haokip, 83, of Migdal Ha-Emek. “I’m an old man who hasn’t lived in Israel that long and doesn’t know that much about its politics,” he says. “If I were still in India, I’d have more of an opinion. But then, again, my vote counts as much as anyone’s, and from the conversations I hear around me, the Likud is supported by most people. My son and daughter-in-law plan to vote for it and so will I.”
Among younger B’nei Menashe, one finds strong pro-Likud sentiment, too. Levana Chongloi, 28, of Tel Aviv plans to vote for the Netanyahu government because she gives it high marks on the economic and diplomatic fronts. Her one caveat is with its handling of the Corona pandemic. “It was a big letdown,” she states. “The pandemic hit ordinary people badly. A lot of businesses went down, not enough relief came from the government, and health protocols were not enforced uniformly.” Still, she says, “I’ve always voted Likud and I’ll do it this time, too.”
Bat-El Rently, 30, of Bet-El isn’t sure she’ll vote at all. Four elections in two years, she says, is “too much.” But if she does vote – “Well, the last three times it was for Likud and it would probably be the same again. I really can’t think of any other party.”
One of our few interviewees who could was Yitzhak Lhungdim, 25, from Kiryat Arba, for whom the Likud isn’t right-wing enough. Yitzhak plans to vote for Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party. “He’s the politician who is most honest about his opinions,” he says.
Another non-Likud voter is David Lhungdim, a religious leader in the B’nei Menashe community of Sderot. “I’m a Haredi, as are many of us in Sderot,” he said. “I and most of my friends will vote for Shas,” the Sephardi religious party. Lhungdim points out that many of Sderot’s B’nei Menashe study in Shas intitutions and share its “ethos of studying Torah and praying for the Jewish nation." He sees a vote for Shas, which can be counted on to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, as a vote for Netanyahu, too. “I feel that the present government with Bibi as prime minister is doing well,” he says. “On the world stage, I don’t see anyone representing Israel as well as he has done. No one who wants to replace him is of the same caliber. I feel that Likud and Shas make a good team.
None of the B’nei Menashe our correspondent spoke to so much as mentioned the corruption charges facing the prime minister, let alone thought they would affect the B’nei Menashe vote. When our correspondent asked Degel Menashe’s executive director Yitzhak Thangjom about this, he said with a laugh that there was an obvious explanation. “Most of us come from Manipur,” he said. “It’s one of the most corrupt states in India, which is not exactly a cleanly run country. We know what real corruption is, and what Netanyahu is being charged with doesn’t strike us as coming close to it.”
Thangjom also thought that the political views of Israel’s B’nei Menashe were unsurprising. “In the first place,” he said, “we are, as a group, nationalistic. We come from a part of the world in which ethnic identity comes first and universalist values count for little, we’ve thrown in our lot with the Jewish people, and we naturally identify with its more militant spokesmen, such as the Likud and other right-wing parties. And secondly, the society that we hail from was traditionally one in which life was dominated by village and regional chiefs. We still have that mentality. The chief is to be respected and obeyed, and no one in Israel is a more powerful chief than Benjamin Netanyahu.”