Let’s Not Jump To Hasty Conclusions: A Degel Menashe Editorial

The cancelation of the Aliyah Cabinet’s meeting this week, called to discuss the death of Yoel Lhanghal, was disappointing. The B’nei Menashe community in Israel is still shocked and agitated by what happened. It needs to feel that the government of Israel is concerned and stands behind it. Unfortunately, this was not the signal given it by the Aliyah Cabinet’s failure to meet.


Yet even if this cabinet had met to issue a formal declaration of support for Israel’s B’nei Menashe, it would not have been enough. There is a problem. Declarations will not help us to understand what it is or how to deal with it.


There is a widespread feeling in the B’nei Menashe community that Yoel Lhanghal’s murder was motivated by racism, and that anti-B’nei Menashe prejudice in Israel, until now discussed only in whispers, is pervasive. Yoel’s murder, it is felt, has raised an issue that has long been suppressed.

But how serious is this issue? The fact is that we don’t know. We don’t even know at the moment what the role played by prejudice in Yoel’s murder was. True, racist slurs were hurled at him during the quarrel that led to the assault on him, but it is not evident that this was the cause of the quarrel itself. Teenage violence is a major problem in Israel quite apart from ethnic hostility. We will have to wait for the results of the police investigation to find out.

And yet even when a police report is issued, and an indictment is served against the perpetrators, it will not tell us much about feelings toward the B’nei Menashe in Israeli society as a whole. For this, a wider inquiry is called for. This is why Degel Menashe intended to present the Aliyah Cabinet with a plan to conduct two complementary studies: one to determine how widespread anti-B’nei Menashe prejudice is in Israel, and the other to establish how such prejudice has affected the B’nei Menashe community. So far, we have only incidental evidence that is far from consistent. Each member of the community views things through the prism of his or her own experience and such experience has not been uniform. There is a need for a more comprehensive and objective picture.


Such a picture can only be assembled by means of in-depth surveys of the Israeli public and the B’nei Menashe alike. Although such surveys would have to be designed with professional help, they need not be methodologically complicated. They would give us an overall view of the situation. Fighting prejudice can be done by educational means, but before one sets out to fight it, one has to know its extent and its nature. Is anti-B’nei Menashe sentiment really the problem in Israel that, in the wake of Yoel Lhanghal’s murder, it strikes so many B’nei Menashe as being?


The answer isn’t clear. The B’nei Menashe are a very small group. Many Israelis have never even heard of them and many who have don’t have an accurate idea of who they are. Many are sympathetic. Just this past week, 3,000 of them donated 400,000 shekels to aid Yoel Lhanghal’s family. They, too, represent Israeli society – perhaps much more than do Yoel’s murderers. It‘s important to find out if this is so.


It’s understandable that the shock of Yoel’s murder should have brought the issue of anti-B’nei Menashe prejudice to the fore. If it’s been swept under the rug until now, it’s good that it’s now out in the open. Yet let’s not rush to the opposite extreme of assuming that such prejudice is rampant in Israel. This isn’t fair to Israel and it’s not fair to the B’nei Menashe, who shouldn’t be made to believe in the absence of hard evidence that the country they dreamed of doesn’t want them. Let’s do our homework before we jump to hasty conclusions. The truth may be more reassuring than some of us now think.