High Court Confirms: Freund, Shavei, Guilty of Forgery
(February 2) At a January 22 session, Israel’s High Court rejected Shavei Israel’s appeal of a Tel Aviv district court’s finding that it and its chairman Michael Freund were guilty of forging numerous documents submitted to the Registry of Non-Profit Organizations in Jerusalem. The district court’s verdict, handed down by Judge Naftali Shilo in April of last year, held that Freund forged his ex-wife Sarah Green’s signature on the documents so as to make her appear to have been active in Shavei Israel’s affairs. The purpose of this, it was implied, was to refute Sarah’s claim, made in a civil suit against Freund, that he embezzled 50 million shekels given her by her father, the American businessman Pinchas Green, and turned it over to Shavei without her knowledge.
The January 22 session, conducted by Judges Uzi Fogelman, Yael Vilner, and David Mintz, was a short one. Having read Judge Shilo’s decision and a preliminary brief submitted by Shavei Israel’s lawyers Tal Shapira, Merav Bar-Zik, and Michal Geller, the judges advised the latter to withdraw their appeal inasmuch as it stood no chance of success. As put by the court:
After reviewing the appellant’s arguments, we have not bothered to request a rejoinder from the defendants [Sarah Green and the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations]. In light of our comments, the appellant’s counsel declared that they would drop the appeal. The appeal has therefore been rejected.
Inasmuch as the counsel for the defense has not requested court costs [from the plaintiff], and for no other reason, costs have not been imposed.
Although cases in which the High Court advises plaintiffs to withdraw a complaint are not unusual, our Newsletter was told by a legal expert, the Court’s rebuke to Shavei Israel was especially sharp. “There was really no need,” the expert told us, “for the Court to stress that courts costs would have been exacted, had they been asked for, apart from its wish to emphasize Shavei‘s poor judgment in appealing the case. Judge Shilo’s verdict was damning and based on ample evidence. There were simply no grounds for an appeal.”
Shavei Israel is now in grave difficulty. Already last August 15, it received notice from the Registrar’s office that, in light of Judge Shilo’s decision, its “certificate of proper management” [nihul takin} was under review and in danger of being revoked. In a statement submitted to the High Court on November 6, the Registrar confirmed that such a step was being considered. (Revocation of nihul takin for an NGO like Shavei would be fatal, since it would result in the organization’s loss of all government funding and contracts, as well as of its ability to raise money from private donors, whose contributions to it would no longer be tax-deductible.) In response to this notice, the law firm representing Shavei Israel, M. Firon & Co., submitted a demurral arguing against such action. Both documents are in our Newsletter’s possession and will be dealt with an article next week.
Reactions to the High Court’s decision were, predictably, mixed. Spokesmen for Shavei Israel sought to downplay its importance and to attribute the charges against Freund to a divorce fight with Sarah Green that was being maliciously exploited by anti-Shavei forces. “This type of news is a common occurrence….the fallout of a marriage gone bad and of a hatred of the B’nei Menashe by one of the parties [Sarah Green],” stated Itzhak Kawlhni, Shavei’s Israel-based representative in Mizoroam. “Until this matter is fully resolved, his [Freund’s] opponents will continue their attacks on him.” And Shavei’s Information Secretary Eliezer Baite declared, blaming opponents of Shavei for the Freunds’ marital discord and Sarah Green’s subsequent law suit,
“Creating rifts between married couples is one of the greatest sins. What Michael [Freund] has done for us, the people who wish to ruin it could not accomplish in their entire lifetimes. The scoundrels who disrupt and wreck Aliyah [of the B’nei Menashe] will never be forgiven.”
Others in the B’nei Menashe community thought differently. “The Torah teaches that we reap what we sow,” said Yoel Sehmang Haokip, the B’nei Menashe Council’s Cultural Secretary in Manipur. “For years, Shavei has separated families and abused its power over Aliyah for its own selfish ends; now a family separation has taken its revenge on it. Shavei has become a cult, ruling by fear and turning us into a joyless community. Hopefully, all this is now coming to an end.”
Ya’akov Haokip of Phalbung, a village in Manipur whose B’nei Menashe have been ostracized by Shavei Israel for not obeying its dictates, had this to say:
“Justice has been served. Now, I hope that all the divisions within our community will end and that unity will prevail. We in Phalbung have been punished by Shavei for years in which none of us was allowed to make Aliyah. With Shavei out of the way, we will finally be able to fulfill our dream of living in Israel.”
And Machir Lotzem of Kiryat Arba observed that the forgery case ruled on by the High Court was only “a small part of the many atrocious things that have been done to the B’nei Menashe by Shavei. The disappearance of funds, the practice of favoritism in compiling Aliyah lists, the arbitrary demands made as conditions for being put on these lists: there should be a commission of inquiry to look into these things. I hope that the Registrar’s office will do the right thing and cancel Shavei’s NGO status. Even that wouldn’t be enough. Shavei should be permanently barred from ever returning to a positon of responsibility, and it should be made to pay for all the damages it has inflicted on our people.”