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What Now? A Degel Menashe Editorial

(April 28) It has been an event-packed week, as our three new Newsletter stories relate.

It was a week in which Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption confirmed that a joint Ministry/Jewish Agency fact-finding mission will soon be traveling to Manipur and Mizoram to study the situation of the roughly 5,000 B’nei Menashe still there and reformulate procedures for their Aliyah. And it was a week in which Degel Menashe and B’nei Menashe Council leaders met with the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem to discuss changes in these procedures. These are important developments. They show that Degel Menashe’s long campaign to have responsibility for the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah transferred from Shavei Israel to The Jewish Agency is finally having results and that both the Agency and the Ministry realize at last that the present system needs to be restructured.

But the week’s most dramatic development took place in a Tel Aviv district court. There, Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund was found was guilty of forging numerous documents to cover up his apparent embezzlement of 50 million shekels of his family’s money and his transfer of it to the coffers of Shavei. It was with this sum that he was able to turn Shavei into the powerful organization that it has become.

As unexpected as it was, this development did not surprise us. Over and over, we have sounded the warning that Shavei Israel is a morally and financially corrupt organization Over and over, we have been ignored. Now, those who ignored us will have to listen to the courts.

Whether the state of Israel will now file criminal charges against Michael Freund, or whether it will simply wait for the law to make him return the funds he is accused of stealing, remains to be seen. Either way, it is now a matter of official record: Shavei Israel is an organization born in crime and maintained by crime.

This changes everything. For the past two years we have fought to break Shavei Israel’s stranglehold on the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah. We have documented the ways in which Shavei’s monopoly on this Aliyah has led to innumerable abuses and injustices. We have described how Shavei has used its monopoly to control and intimidate the B’nei Menashe community. We have called upon The Jewish Agency to step in and put an end to the anomaly of a private organization deciding who is allowed to live in Israel and who is not. Yet throughout all this, we have never demanded that Shavei Israel be excluded from the Aliyah process. We have held that it could play a constructive role in this process as long as others were allowed to play one, too.

No longer. After the court’s ruling this week, Shavei Israel must go. It must not be allowed to have anything more to do with the Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe or with their absorption in Israel. It must be recognized for what it is: a criminal body that belongs beyond the pale. No one in the B’nei Menashe community should have to be sullied by contact with it. No Israeli authority should want to be sullied by such contact, either. It is inconceivable that from now on a single shekel of public money should go to an organization founded on fraud and theft, or that it should be entrusted with any public task.

This makes rethinking the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah more urgent than ever. The sending of a fact-finding mission to northeast India is a first, necessary step. It should take place as soon as possible. And it should set for itself the clear goal of determining how, with Shavei now out of the picture, this Aliyah can be carried out more fairly, quickly, and efficiently. The task should not prove too difficult. There are enough forces in the B’nei Menashe community that, working together with the Ministry of Immigration and The Jewish Agency, can get the job done and do it better than Shavei did. The time to rebuild after an earthquake is at once.



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