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Get Off Our Backs, Mr. Freund - an Editorial

Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, has sent a message. For the benefit of those of you who do not have access to his Facebook account, here it is:

The chairman of Shavei Israel is apparently so scared of us that he cannot bring himself to call us by name. But let there be no mistake: when he speaks of “people spreading rumors, false information, and Lashon Hara [malicious gossip],” he is talking about us. And so my first piece of advice to him is: Don’t be afraid to say it, Mr. Freund. We’re called Degel Menashe. Pretending we’re anonymous won’t make us go away.

And here is my second piece of advice: Stop treating us B’nei Menashe as simpletons. Do you really think any of us believe you when you say, “We must unite because that is the key to redemption?” You, whose organization, Shavei Israel, has done all it can to foment among us the “jealousy, division, and hatred” that you hypocritically accuse Degel Menashe of causing?

Where were you, Mr. Freund, in all the years in which Shavei turned brother against brother by playing on the differences between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi rites of prayer in order to assert its power over us ? Where were you when Shavei drove the “Ashkenazim” – which, until it came along, we all were --out of the B’nei Menashe community? Was that your idea of achieving unity among us?

Where were you last spring and summer when Degel Menashe distributed over 50 tons of rice to the hungry B’nei Menashe communities of Manipur and Mizoram while Shavei Israel not only failed to lift a finger to help but did its best to frighten our brothers and sisters into refusing the food they so badly needed because it came from us? Is that what you call working for B’nei Menashe unity?

Where were you last month when all 24 of the B’nei Menashe communities of Manipur went to the polls to conduct the free elections for the B’nei Menashe Council that Shavei Israel had long prevented from taking place and did everything to prevent this time, too? Where were you when Shavei, after running its own candidates at the last moment and losing in a fair vote, launched a campaign to split and destroy the newly elected body? Is that your contribution to our unity?

You write that “Shavei Israel will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that ALL Bnei Menashe will be able to make Aliya.” Whom do you think you are fooling? Who of us does not know how Shavei Israel has, over the years, blacklisted hundreds of B’nei Menashe in North East India and kept them off its Aliyah lists because they did not kowtow to it and its dictates? Who of us does not know of wives who have been separated from their husbands, sisters from their brothers, children from their parents, families from their close relatives, because of Shavei’s policy of divide-and-rule? This is not just something that happened long ago. It is still going on. If you are not aware of it, you can read about the latest cases of it in this week’s News section of our Website.

You say, Mr. Freund, that you are worried that our actions might “halt the Bnei Menashe Aliya.” You can stop worrying. We will not halt B’nei Menashe Aliyah, which – unlike you and Shavei Israel – we really do want to include ALL B’nei Menashe. What we will halt is Shavei’s monopoly over our Aliyah, which it has used for nearly two decades to rule tyrannically over the B’nei Menashe communities of India and Israel, You have held Aliyah as a whip over our heads, threatening to withhold it for the slightest act of disobedience. We are going to take that whip out of your hands by removing B’nei Menashe Aliyah from your grip and entrusting it to the government of Israel and its institutions, where it belonged in the first place.

And that is what really worries you – not our Aliyah coming to an end, but your power over us coming to an end. On the day that happens, Aliyah will not slow down, it will speed up, because it will no longer be subject to Shavei’s slow pace. In the past 17 years, ever since it gained control of B’nei Menashe Aliyah, Shavei has barely managed to bring an average of 100 of us to Israel per year. Perhaps you consider that a great success. We consider it a grand failure. At this rate, it will take another half a century for us all to reach Israel.

The photograph of you being carried like a lord on our backs on one of your visits to India appeared in a Shavei Israel publication. It is a true picture and it speaks truly, because it tells us what you think of us. You think that we are here to serve you and Shavei Israel. Get off our backs, Mr. Freund!

Yitzkhak Thangjom

Degel Menashe Project Manager



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