Fake News and Tzvi Khaute
Updated: Jan 13
(January 11) A week ago, as reported here on January 4, a fake news item about seven B’nei Menashe being killed in a bomb attack on a Manipur synagogue went viral in the media, causing no little embarrassment when it was exposed as false. The story was traced to a January 2 session of the Knesset’s Committee of Aliyah and Absorption, whose official summation quoted Tzvi Khaute, Coordinator of Shavei Israel, as saying, “Last night, the B’nei Menashe community buried seven of its members who were killed when a bomb fell near a synagogue.” In a subsequent statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which initially spread the Knesset report, Shavei claimed that Khaute had been misquoted.
Had he been? Or was he indeed responsible for the false story?
Our Newsletter has obtained a Knesset video of the session and can now answer both these questions—and the answers to both are “Yes.” Yes, Khaute was misquoted. And yes, he was the source of the fake news.
The video can be viewed at this link below:
Here, translated from the Hebrew, is a transcript of the first two minutes and 16 seconds of Khaute’s four minutes and 38 seconds of testimony before the committee. In addition to him, the two other identified speakers in the transcript are the committee’s chairman, Knesset Member Oded Forer, and former Minister of Aliyah and Absorption Penina Tamano-Shata. Although the transcript is as accurate as we could make it, some remarks were unclear and have been noted as such.
Tzvi Khaute: This morning, I received this [raising his mobile phone screen for all to see]. The bomb fell in the perimeter of a Bnei Menashe synagogue. Six people were killed last night.
Unidentified Speaker: In India?
Khaute: In India.
Unidentified Speaker: From members of the [B’nei Menashe] community?
Khaute: Members of the community were buried – they could not be buried for seven months. They were only buried last week. I’m sorry to say this. That's the first thing...
Tamano-Shata: How many? How many?
Khaute: B’nei Menashe.
Tamano-Shata: How many were killed?
Forer: In June I asked for….[The remainder of the remark is unclear.].
Khaute: Three were killed. I don't want to go into the details. This is an emergency. Lives are at stake. 5,500 [B’nei Menashe] remain [in India]. I haven’t asked, I haven’t prayed to God, for all 5,500 to come tomorrow. I do implore, I pray, for at least 700, 1,000, a year -- that’s what I pray for. Each time we begin from zero all over again.
Unidentified Speaker: Pray for all 5,000!
Khaute: God willing! But first let there be at least one[more modest] round.
Unidentified Speaker Since when have there been quotas for Jews wanting to make Aliyah?
Khaute: At least 500 a year. Let 1,000 come. Let’s talk now about the next group. It’s an emergency. Keeping a low profile….
Tamano-Shata: If we are ever born again, we should pray it not be as a black or slanty-eyed Jew. It’s shameful, simply shameful! Seven Jews were killed last week and no one is talking about it. What is 5,000? What is this? What is this? You must act now.
Khaute: Keeping a low profile, I met seven years ago with the Indian Interior Minister, the Prime Minister. They’re not opposed to even three million B’nei Menashe [if there were that many] going to Israel.
What can be said about all this? Here are some thoughts:
1. Khaute did not say that seven B’nei Menashe were killed by a bomb. What he did say initially, pointing to a photo on his cell phone, was that in a bombing incident near a Manipur synagogue, six people – not necessarily B’nei Menashe – were killed. (This in itself was false. As reported by our Newsletter, a bomb was planted near a synagogue in the town of Moreh, but it did not explode and it killed no one.)
2. A moment later, asked if these six deaths were those of B’nei Menashe, Khaute, not wanting to admit they were non-existent, changed the subject to an unspecified number of B’nei Menashe killed in Manipur’s Kuki-Meitei hostilities and left unburied for “seven months.” In actual fact, a single B’nei Menashe, Joel Jamkhogin Baite, has been killed in the Kuki-Meitei fighting so far. His body was indeed held in a Lamka morgue for seven months before being interred.
3. When then asked by a confused Tamano-Shata, “How many? How many were killed?”, Khaute answered, “Three were killed,” and added, “I don’t want to go into the details.” One can easily understand why he did not want to, since the correct answer to Tamano-Shata’s question, had it been about the Kuki-Meitei conflict and not (as it was clearly intended to be) about the synagogue bombing, was “one” and not “three.”
4. Tamano-Shata’s confusion having grown even greater, she now exclaimed, apparently latching onto the number seven from Khaute’s account of the months in which bodies were not buried, “It’s shameful, simply shameful! Seven Jews were killed last week and no one is talking about it.” Khaute who was sitting quite close to Tamano-Shata and could not have failed to hear her, did not bother to correct her. He did not say, as he could and should have said, “Excuse me, I’ve been misunderstood. No B’nei Menashe were killed last week.” Instead, he changed the subject once more – this time to meetings supposedly had by him in the past with the prime and interior ministers of India. (To the best of our Newsletter’s knowledge, no such meetings ever took place. If Khaute has evidence that they did, he is requested to present it.) He obviously wanted, without explicitly saying so, to leave the committee members with the impression that B’nei Menashe – six, seven, whatever number they came away thinking of -- had been killed in a synagogue bombing.
Was he being deliberately duplicitous in order to stress the urgency of B’nei Menashe Aliyah? If he was, he was doing it no service. The headlines about dead B’nei Menashe that appeared in the days that followed soon gave way to red faces. Even when misquoted, fake is fake.