MASS ANTI-SHAVEI DEMONSTRATION IN MANIPUR

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

(15 October) An estimated 200 B’nei Menashe from all over Manipur gathered in Churachandpur last Sunday to demonstrate against Shavei Israel and its monopolistic grip on the community's Aliyah to Israel. The demonstrators came from Phalbung, Saikul, Pejang, Tuolaphai, and other places in addition to a large group from Churachandpur itself. Carrying banners and chanting slogans, they demanded an end to Shavei Israel's stranglehold on the Aliyah process.


The demonstration came on the heels of the departure for Israel of some 250 B'nei Menashe immigrants, some allegedly chosen on the basis of favoritism and discrimination against B'nei Menashe who have resisted Shavei Israel's control. The protest was also sparked by the visit to Manipur of Shavei Israel's director Tzvi Khaute. Announcing that he would soon begin compiling a list of the next group of B’nei Menashe to be cleared for immigration to Israel, Khaute stressed that the only candidates to be considered would be those registered with the rump “B'nei Menashe Council” recently established by Shavei. This breakaway faction has sought to displace the official B'nei Menashe Council elected democratically last November by all 24 of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe congregations and recognized by a Manipur court as the community’s legitimate representative.


The banner close up.

The demonstration took place in front of Shavei headquarters at Churachandpur's Beit Shalom synagogue, to which the demonstrators marched from the home of former Beit Shalom official Demsat Haokip. (Demsat arrived this week in Israel with the group of 250 immigrants.) It called for a fair and transparent Aliyah process that included the many individuals and congregations whose refusal to obey Shavei Israel’s dictates has led to their being bypassed for Aliyah, sometimes for. decades. A concomitant demand was for the B’nei Menashe community’s three ordained Orthodox rabbis, all of whom have been sidelined by Shavei from the procedure of selecting new immigrants, to be made part of it.


Some of the demonstrators.

Much of the demonstrators’ anger was directed at Khaute, who is regarded by them as a corrupt and dictatorial figure. Shouts of "Down with Tzvi Khaute" and "Tzvi Khaute go back [to Israel]" were heard from many of them. Their numbers were particularly impressive given their awareness that they were risking their own chances for Aliyah by attending the protest. "I’m sticking my neck out for justice", said one of them, Hosea Kipgen of the village of Pejang. "I know that if Shavei Israel continues to be in charge, I may never make it to the Holy Land, which has been a dream of a lifetime. But bad things have been happening to our community and somebody has to take a stand against them."


The demonstration was given wide coverage by the local Manipuri media. Two newspapers, Manipur Express and Nisin Thuhiltu and two local cable TV stations, TCNews Thusoh and Tualsung Thuthang reported on it in detail.

A report from Manipur Express.

The article above reads like this:


DISCONTENT OVER SHAVEI ISRAEL BRING CONFLICT

Lamka, Oct 10: This morning there was a gathering of people who were unhappy over the Bnei Menashe Council which has been split into two at the Shavei Israel Hebrew Centre, B. Vengnom by members of the Bnei Menashe community against a Jerusalem based organization, Shavei Israel who was blamed for bringing about this division of the community. Shavei Israel assists lost Jews, in particular, the Bnei Menashe from the northeast India to Israel. The Bnei Menashe Council in northeast India is in possession of registration under the Co-operative Society, Churachandpur along with its own constitution and byelaws to help administration. Shavei Israel has been interfering through its director, Tzvi Khaute by appointing Paolam Singson as chairman at Boljol on October 3, 2021.


In accordance to the byelaw, a general meeting was called on October 25, 2020 and decisions were taken to call for election on the November 5, 2020 which saw W. L. Hangshing(retd IRS) against Sehjalal Kipgen (Shavei Administrator Manipur) for the post of the chairman. Votes were cast and W. L. Hangshing emerged as the winner. It came to be seen that Shavei had been using the Bnei Menashe for their economic benefits. Since W. L. Hangshing became the chairman, it was revealed that the BMC bank account had been closed by them and an amount of Rs. 77.2 lacs(7,72,000) which, according to the byelaw Article 13(d), was to have been subject to audit was found missing and Meital Singson had closed the bank account without giving notice to anyone. An FIR had been lodged at the Churachandpur Police Station.


The complainants also reported that Shavei Israel tried to hold a re-election on the November 2020 but the Churachandpur Magistrate Court put a restraining order against that. It has been learnt that Shavei director, Tzvi Khaute and Shavei Administrator set up a fake election in contravention of the court's ruling and propped up an illegal BMC on the 26th August 2021. On September 26, 2021, they organised their first meeting while distributing bogus BMC census, which has led to the splitting of the Bnei Menashe into two.


Supporters of the original BMC gathered at Beit Shalom, B. Vengnom to present their anger by saying that BMC has laws to deal with this. There is no need to bring in a foreign NGO like Shavei who has been unnecessarily interfering in the Bnei Menashe community and an appeal will be made to the Israeli, Indian and the Manipur governments to prevent Shavei Israel from entering into internal matters of the Bnei Menashe.


Noteworthily, three days before the demonstration, Khaute met with Lalam Hangshing, the legal B'nei Menashe Council's elected chairman, in the latter's Imphal home. Although Shavei Israel spokeman claimed that at this meeting Hangshing capitulated to Khaute and accepted his authority, Hangshing scoffed at this. The meeting was held, he informed our Newsletter, at Khaute’s request and it was Khaute who did most of the talking, devoting nearly two hours to defending himself against the charges against him. “I simply sat there and listened,” says Hangshing, who dismissed the meeting as a Shavei PR stunt. “Khaute made no concessions and I certainly made none of my own. He obviously prefers the status quo of being in sole charge of everything.”


On the whole, Shavei officials, while reportedly taken aback by the demonstration's size, did not react publicly to it. The one exception was Shavei Advisory Board member Eliezer Baite who wrote to a Shavei WhatsApp group; "I haven’t heard any of you speak up. Are we going to take this sitting down? If we allow them [the demonstrators] to keep it up, there will be more and more of it. Let’s take action against these nobodies who have risen against Shavei. We need to strike back and silence them."