Shavei Has Its Day in Court
(February 11), Yitzhak Seimang Haokip, Shavei Israel’s Manipur Coordinator , appeared in Churachandpur magistrate’s court on February 10 to answer charges of criminal impersonation by pretending to be the General Secretary of the B’nei Menashe Council. Seimang, the Council’s former General Secretary, ceased to occupy that position when new BMC officials were chosen in elections held last November 5. Seimang was represented by his lawyer Ginsuanmong Naulot. In a 14-page brief, Naulot asked the court to rule that Seimang is still the BMC’s legitimate General Secretary because the November 5 elections, participated in by all 24 of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe communities, were illegal.
The case made by Naulot for the elections’ illegality, repeated several times in the course of the brief, rested on the contention that they violated an alleged “compromise” reached at a pre-election meeting attended by representatives of 17 of the 24 communities on October 25. This compromise, the brief claimed, consisted of an agreement to bar the four contested congregations of Petach Tikva, Pejang, Phalbung, and Saikul from participating in the elections, only after which would they be allowed to take part in B’nei Menashe affairs. The first three of them, Naulot explained, had been ousted from the BMC’s structure for continuing to observe the Ashkenazi rites of prayer despite the insistence of the then Shavei-controlled BMC that all B’nei Menashe congregations pray according to the Sephardic custom; since they were nevertheless allowed to participate in the November 5 vote, the latter should be declared null and void. “In the said [October 25] meeting,” the brief stated, citing as proof an October 29 news report from this Newsletter, “a floor fight ended with a compromise that the aforesaid 4 (four) communities/ congregations would not vote in the election to be held this time but would be full participants in all B’nei Menashe Council affairs in the future.”
Was this actually what was decided at the October 25 meeting? “Not at all,” says Ohaliav Haokip, the BMC’s newly elected General Secretary, who was present at it. “No such resolution regarding the November 5 elections was ever passed.”
A quick look at this Newsletter’s report, dated October 25, bears out Ohaliav’s denial.
Here is its exact language:
(October 26) In a sometimes tumultuous session of the heads of the B’nei Menashe congregations of Manipur at Beit Shalom synagogue in Churachandpur on Sunday, October 25, it was decided by a large majority to hold elections for a new B’nei Menashe Council in early November. The vote was a major defeat for Shavei Israel, the organization that has controlled B’nei Menashe affairs in Manipur and Israel for the past 15 years and that opposed the holding of the elections as a challenge to its power.
The 34 ballots were cast by 17 of Manipur’s 24 B’nei Menashe congregations, each represented by its chairman and secretary. Seven congregations did not take part in the vote. Three from the Churachandpur district, New Bazaar, Mualkoi, and Phalien, failed to attend the session for unclear reasons. Four others – Petach Tikva, Peijang, Phalbung, and Saikul – sent delegations whose right to vote was challenged by Shavei Israel on the grounds that they had been excluded by it from the communal structure that it has administered for the past 15 years. A floor fight ended with a compromise: the four congregations would not vote this time [emphasis added] but would be full participants in all B’nei Menashe Council affairs in the future.”
There was nothing in the news report about the four contested congregations being barred from voting in the November 5 election. On the contrary: the words “would not vote this time” clearly referred to the October 25 decision to hold the November 5 elections, not to the elections themselves, which were included in the reference to “all B’nei Menashe Council affairs in the future.” The “compromise,” in other words, was that the four contested congregations could not vote on October 25 but could vote on November 5.
“The truth is the exact opposite of what Seimang Haokip claimed in court,” says Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s Executive Director. “Anyone reading the Newsletter article, let alone anyone who was at the October 25 meeting, would know that Seimang was deliberately misrepresenting the facts.”
“The extraordinary thing,” Thangjom remarked, “is that the brief cites Shavei’s long-standing policy of religious discrimination against Petach Tikva, Peijang, and Phalbung as justification for Shavei’s claim that the elections were illegal. It’s no secret that Shavei, over the years, systematically boycotted every individual and community that went on using the Ashkenazi liturgy that the B’nei Menashe learned from Rabbi Eliyahu Avichayil. But to claim in court that ending this boycott made the election illegal? Seimang and his lawyer appear not to have known that religious discrimination of this sort is prohibited by Indian law. It’s astonishing that they would actually base their defense on Shavei’s having practiced it They’re like the man in the joke who told the judge that he couldn’t possibly have broken his neighbor’s window because he was busy at that exact moment stealing his neighbor’s cow!”