Michael Freund Writes to Sarah Baite
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
(January 27) Shavei Israel chairman Michael Freund, our Newsletter has learned, has written a letter to Sarah Baite. The letter comes after several weeks in which the publicizing of the 2016 rape of Baite’s daughter by a Shavei Israel crony in Manipur has been sending shock waves through the B’nei Menashe community.
Dated January 21, 2022, Freund’s letter reached Baite three days later, having apparently been emailed to a Shavei Israel operative in Manipur and dropped off at her home by an anonymous courier. Its full text is in our Newsletter’s possession. It began:
“Dear Mrs. Baite,
“The other day I received a copy of a letter you had sent [the reference is to a 2018 appeal addressed by Baite to Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata] containing serious allegations about the shocking sexual assault on your daughter in July 2016.
This is the first time that I have heard of these accusations, and they are simply horrifying. I urge you to contact all the relevant authorities so that they will investigate the matter thoroughly.”
As pointed out on this site [See our January 23 article “’This Is the First Time I have Heard of These Allegations: Is He To Be Believed?”], Freund’s claim never to have heard until now of the case of Sarah Baite and her daughter strains credulity. Evidently written to deflect mounting pressure on himself and Shavei Israel to explain their long-standing silence regarding the rape incident, his letter continued:
“As a parent myself, I cannot imagine how difficult and painful such an experience must have been, and my heart goes out to you and your family. If you require any assistance, legal or otherwise, we would be willing to help you. I tried several times to speak to you by phone and via other Bnei Menashe community members but have been unable to reach you.”
It is unclear what “several times” Freund had in mind. Before going into temporary hiding this week (see today’s article “Sarah Baite Leaves Churachandpur”), Baite, whose cell phone number is known to Shavei Israel, told our Newsletter that no attempted calls by Michael Freund were recorded on her phone and that the only calls she has received from Shavei officals were the threatening ones of the organization’s Manipur administrator Shlomo Sejalal Kipgen. (See our January 23 article) “Sarah Baite Files Rape Charges In Face of Shavei Intimidation.”
From there, Freund’s letter proceeded to the subject, also raised by Baite in her appeal to Tamano-Shata, of her being denied Aliyah bv Shavei Israel. He wrote:
“I can assure you that no one from Shavei Israel has blocked your Aliya or removed you from any Aliya list. The fact is that the last time that a rabbinical delegation visited Manipur to make an Aliya list was in November 2015, which was 8 months before the incident with your daughter. We checked the list of Bnei Menashe to be interviewed by the rabbis in 2015 which was prepared by the Bnei Menashe community leadership at the time, and your name was never on it, so it cannot possibly have been removed at a later date.
“Shavei Israel does not decide who makes Aliya. This decision is entirely in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and the Government of Israel. If it were up to us, all the Bnei Menashe would have been in Israel already! It is regrettable that certain people have led you to think otherwise.”
“What is regrettable,” says Degel Menashe executive director Yitzhak Thangjom, “is that Michael Freund, in typical fashion, totally distorted Sarah Baite’s letter to Pnina Tamano-Shata. Nowhere in it did Baite say that she had been removed from an Aliyah list. She said that, despite her many years in the B’nei Menashe community and her difficult situation as a widow with three children, she had never been invited to an Aliyah interview that might have placed her on such a list, as had been many people with less seniority in the community than hers. I find it hard to believe that Michael Freund actually read her letter to the minister.”
As for Freund’s claim that Shavei Israel does not decide who makes Aliyah, Thangjom declared, “it’s simply laughable. Every B’nei Menashe knows that the Aliyah lists are drawn up by Shavei after preliminary interviews conducted by it and that the Rabbinate then re-interviews the candidates who pass. Neither the Rabbinate nor the Israeli government are empowered to add a single person to the first-round list. Both can in principle take names off the list, though they have rarely done so in practice, but they never add any new names. That has been Shavei’s exclusive prerogative.”
On the same day that Freund’s letter to Sarah Baite was written, he posted a Facebook announcement to the B’nei Menashe community, much of it framed in the same language as the letter’s. In it he reiterated his prior ignorance of the rape incident and requested that anyone knowing about it send him “a full and detailed account [of it] as soon as possible.”
“And this,” commented Thangjom, “at the very time that Shavei Israel’s administrator in Manipur, Shlomo Sehjalal Kipgen, has been threatening Sarah Baite withdraw her complaint to the police! How can Michael Freund expect to be taken seriously?”
B’nei Menashe Facebook reactions to Freund’s posting were mixed, with some discussants attributing the uproar over the rape case to a Degel Menashe attempt to undermine Shavei Israel and others angrily answering back. “I am fed up with this rape story,” wrote Yosef Khayim Menashe.
And Avidan Menashe wrote: “I feel bad for them [Sarah Baite and her daughter]. But then again, it is never good to bring back the past. It’s unfortunate that this [Sarah Baite’s] family is now being used by an organization to bring down another organization. They should have fought this case when it happened, five or six years ago. [Editor’s note: Degel Menashe was founded in December 2019.] If they’re only bringing up this matter now, they obviously do not have good intentions.”
To which Yonatan Haokip of Sderot replied:
“Just because it happened a long time ago doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be brought up now. Should God, by the same logic, forgive all sins after six years? She [Sarah Baite’s daughter] has been hurt very badly. It’s nothing to make light of.”
And Eliora Mate of Bet-She’an added:
“It’s unacceptable that such things should happen and just as much so that people should be angry at its being dredged up from the past. If it had happened in their own family, I’m sure they would have reacted violently. It’s selfish to think that other people should learn to bear pain that we ourselves would never agree to put up with. And what hurts even more is that this happened in our own Jewish community.”