Fake B’nei Menashe News Story Goes Viral in Jewish Media
(January 4) News of seven Bnei Menashe killed in a rocket strike in strife-torn Manipur made headlines in the Israeli and world Jewish media this week. The incident would have been shocking had it happened. Fortunately, however, it didn’t. No such strike took place and no B’nei Menashe were killed. What actually occurred, our Newsletter has learned, was this:
On New Year’s Day, Monday, January 1, after several days of skirmishing between Kuki and Meitei forces in and around the town of Moreh on Manipur’s border with Myanmar, a Kuki force ambushed a detachment of Manipur state troopers, killing three and wounding 12 of them. (The troopers, all Meiteis, has been engaged in a “combing operation” in which they entered Kuki houses, ostensibly to search for arms and fighting men, and reportedly brutalized their inhabitants.) Two Kukis were also injured in the exchange. Concomitantly, a roadside bomb, apparently planted by Meiteis, was found on a main road not far from Moreh’s Moreshet Synagogue and defused before it could go off.
Although there were no B’nei Menashe casualties, let alone fatalities, in either of these incidents, the proximity of the second to a synagogue was apparently enough to trigger a rumor about them. This rumor did not spread in Manipur itself; in fact, when our Newsletter spoke with numerous B’nei Menashe in the state, it turned out that none of them had even heard it. Yet it soon reached the Israeli Knesset, whose Committee on Immigration and Absorption held a session on January 2 on the subject of B’nei Menashe Aliyah. The session was addressed by Tzvi Khaute, Coordinator of the Jerusalem-based NGO Shavei Israel, an organization entrusted in the past with organizing such Aliyah. As reported that same day by Hadshot ha-Knesset or “Knesset News,” the Israeli parliament’s official Hebrew-language daily bulletin, under the headline, “B’nei Menashe Community in India: Seven Killed in Disturbances While Awaiting Aliyah to Israel”.
“In the words of Tzvi Khaute, ‘Last night, the B’nei Menashe community buried seven of its members who were killed when a bomb fell near a synagogue. I implore you to enable the community to make Aliyah. Every day that the B’nei Menashe remain in India without immigrating to Israel, their lives are in danger.”
The story was quickly picked up by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, from which it spread. “7 members of Jewish Indian tribe said killed in rocket strike on Manipur synagogue” was the headline run by the widely read and respected Times of Israel, and similar stories appeared in other print and digital publications.
According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency source that our Newsletter spoke to, a Shavei Israel representative claimed when contacted that Khaute had been misquoted. How he could have been understood to be announcing seven B’nei Menashe deaths and burials while doing no such thing remains a mystery.
Northeast India’s B’nei Menashe Council issued this statement:
“The B’nei Menashe Council wishes to make clear that while it, too, calls for the speedy Aliyah of India’s B’nei Menashe, it condemns all resort to fake news as a means of encouraging this. The situation of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe after months of ethnic violence that has left many of them homeless and with no means of livelihood is indeed extremely difficult and their resettlement in Israel is urgent. However, spreading lies as a way of promoting sympathy for their plight is despicable and can only work to their detriment.”
Below are links to the news from the media: