Going To Court: A Degel Menashe Editorial

Updated: Jul 4

Taking legal action against a government ministry is not something to be done lightly. It’s a last recourse when all else has failed. But in Degel Menashe’s long battle with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration to have the Aliyah of the B’nei Menashe taken out of the corrupt and abusive hands of Shavei Israel and transferred to The Jewish Agency, the time has come to admit it: all else has failed.


The last straw – the last failed hope – was the so-called “fact-finding mission” sent by the Ministry and the Agency to Manipur and Mizoram in early June. Such a mission had long been a goal of ours. As far back as November 24, 2020, Degel Menashe wrote to Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata: “You should consider sending a Ministry/Jewish Agency delegation to Manipur and Mizoram in order to investigate the situation there and write a report that can serve as the basis for future decisions.” We thought that an on-site commission of inquiry might convince both bodies, as countless written testimonies had been unable to, of the need for a thorough reform of the B’nei Menashe Aliyah process. We welcomed the news last April that such a mission was about to depart for India, and we welcomed it again when, after a two-month delay, it set out in June.


We were naïve. After all our bitter experience with the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, we should have known better. The “fact-finding mission” was a farce. It had no interest in the facts and did not bother to look for them. In its week in northeast India, it spent no more than four hours on hearing from Shavei Israel’s many victims and critics. Few of those wishing to relate their grievances were given a chance to. Those allowed to speak were permitted five or ten minutes each. The delegation from Israel had no time for them. It was too busy being hosted by Shavei, shepherded around by it, and attending its receptions, to which Shavei’s opponents were not invited.


In short, the Ministry/Agency mission visited Mizoram and Manipur as the guest of the organization it was supposed to investigate. Although it went through the motions of listening to both sides so that could it pretend to be fair-minded, its mind was made up in advance. If it ever files an official report, the findings are predictable. “Yes, we found a few people who claimed to have been treated badly by Shavei Israel,“ these will state. “Perhaps some were. But no organization is perfect, not even Shavei, which has promised not to let such slips recur. We fully recommend leaving the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah in its hands.”


For words such as these, there will have been no need to have traveled to India. They could be written without leaving Jerusalem.


And all this comes on the heels of the Ministry’s refusal to answer repeated queries about what it intends to do regarding Judge Naftali Shiloh’s April 15th ruling that Shavei Israel and its chairman Michael Freund have been guilty of repeated acts of criminal fraud! No answer is an answer, too. What the ministry intends to do is obvious:


Nothing.


That is, it intends to carry on with business as usual. Yes, its business partner is a private NGO that behaves like a mafia, but clearly this doesn’t bother it.


And so, all else having failed, Degel Menashe has decided, along with fourteen senior members of the B’nei Menashe community in Israel, to go to court. If the Ministry will not change course of its own volition, it will have to be made to. The Tel Aviv law firm representing us is a leader in the field of public litigation. It has agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis as a public service. We thank it for doing so and agree with its judgment. This is indeed a public issue. It concerns not just the B’nei Menashe but all Israelis who care about clean and fair government and want their country’s ministries to care, too.