Mizoram’s B’nei Menashe Join Anti-Shavei Protest
(October 21) The anti-Shavei Israel protest movement spread from Manipur to Mizoram on Sunday with a demonstration against Shavei in the state’s capital of Aizawl. More modest than the previous week’s turnout in Churachandpur, it was the first ever to take place in Mizoram, whose B’nei Menashe community has been slow to join the growing opposition to Shavei.
“We were very determined people, ranging from young to old, all with a deep sense of grievance,” our Newsletter was told by Asaf Renthlei, one of the demonstration’s organizers. Although it was, Renthlei said, a particularly hot day and motor traffic is banned in Aizawl on Sundays as part of an anti-pollution campaign, some of the demonstrators walked for miles up and down the hills of the city in order to reach the site of the protest.
The demonstration featured a Mizo and English banner asking Shavei six questions:
The first of these questions was explained to our Newsletter by one of the protest’s participants, Isaiah Bawithang. Of the 722 B’nei Menashe who have arrived in Israel in three groups since December 2020, all on the basis of a list drawn up by Shavei Israel and finalized with the Israeli authorities in 2015, only 113, Bawithang said, were from Mizoram, the rest being from Manipur. This happened, he went on, despite Shavei Israel;s having originally informed the Mizoram community that it would be given 250 places on the list, for the rabbis who came to Mizoram in 2015 under Shavei’s auspices in order to approve the 250 departed mysteriously after meeting with less than half of them. To this day rumors, all unconfirmed, circulate about the reason for their sudden departure.
As a result of this, according to Bawithang, over 130 places on the 2015 list that should have been filled by B’nei Menashe from Mizoram were re-allotted to B’nei Menashe from Manipur. Morever, when Tsvi Khaute, Shavei Israel’s director-general, visited Mizoram a year ago, he unsuccessfully sought to persuade the 113 also to give up their places and to come as one group with the others at a later date; this stoked suspicions that Khaute, who hails from Manipur and has closer ties with its B’nei Menashe than with Mizoram’s, wished to replace the 113, too, with more from Manipur. But what was it, the Aizawl demonstrators asked, that kept the entire group of 250 from coming in its entirety in the first place?
The remaining five points on the banner were similar to those raised by the protesters in Churachandpur and had to do with Shavei’s cronyism in choosing candidates for Aliyah and its blackballing of all who have not hewn to its dictates or who have associated with rival groups, such as the B’nei Menashe Council and Degel Menashe.
Another of the participants, Leah Renthlei, told us her story. “Along with my family,” she said, “I have been
observing Judaism since 2005. And yet Shavei Israel has overlooked us each time a new group was chosen for Aliyah because we refused to follow it blindly – most recently when I took part in last summer’s Degel Menashe Covid Relief campaign that Shavei opposed. Now Shavei is once again drawing up lists of immigrants to Israel and we’re again being ignored by its emissary, Yitzchak Kawlni, who has been entrusted with the job. It’s important to me to make a stand against Shavei’s injustice. The government of Israel and the Jewish Agency must be made aware of what a corrupt and oppressive organization Shavei is and of how we need to be freed from its control.”
The demonstrators held homemade Hebrew placards with signs that said “Free the B’nei Menashe,” “We are the prisoners of Zion of Shavei Israel,” “Enough! Shavei Israel go home!”, and “Where is the Jewish Agency?” The eldest of them, our Newsletter was told, Daniel and Miriam Hualngo, have been practicing Judaism for 20 years and are members of Aizawl’s Shavei-controlled Khovevei Tzion synagogue.
Yet they, too, despite their seniority and age, have repeatedly been denied Aliyah by Shavei, and Kawlni has made no attempt to contact them since arriving in Aizawl last week. Old as they are, they climbed the steep hill to the demonstration’s site, eager to make their voices heard.