Shavei Israel Forced to De-Weaponize Aliyah
(June 17) “We just can’t do that,” chief Shavei Israel administrator Tsvi Khaute, the organization’s second-in-command, reportedly told a group of its senior officials when urged by them to strike the names of anti-Shavei activists in Manipur from a list of B’nei Menashe slated to make Aliyah in the coming months. The meeting at which he made this declaration, our Newsletter has learned from a reliable source, was held last month in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot.
Khaute’s statement was an admission that Shavei Israel has been forced by the Israeli authorities to abandon its long-standing policy of using Aliyah, and the threat of withholding it, as a weapon with which to subdue dissent within the B’nei Menashe community.
A recent incident in Manipur bears this out. No longer able to play fast and loose with Aliyah lists as it has done in the past, Shavei has resorted to harassing its opponents in other ways while acknowledging its inability to stop them from reaching Israel.
The incident involves two small families, both from the B’nei Menashe village of Boljol near Churachandpur. One is that of Yosef Chongloi, a 31-year-old businessman, and his wife and two children. Chongloi fell into Shavei Israel’s bad graces last summer when he participated in an emergency food relief campaign conducted by Manipur’s B’nei Menashe Council despite Shavei’s boycott of it. At the time, he was told by the village headman, Shavei Israel’s Manipur administrator Shlomo (Sehjalal) Kipgen, that he would pay for his defiance by being denied immigration to Israel, even though he and his wife Tingneilam were on a 2016 list of candidates approved for Aliyah.
The second family is that of Dinnah Chinthem Singson, 42, also from Boljol, and her widowed 77-year-old mother, Khana Hatkhonem Singson. Khana is also on the 2016 list, from which Dinnah was excluded because she was not in Manipur at the time that interviews for it were conducted. Despite her requests, Shavei refused to provide her with an alternative date, even though this meant that her elderly mother would have to travel to Israel and adjust to life there by herself.
This was one reason that Dinnah joined a demonstration held outside Shavei’s Churachandpur office last month to protest its lack of fairness and transparency in administering the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah. (See “280 B’nei Menashe to Leave For Israel Amid Protests” in our May 23 Newsletter.)
Shortly after this demonstration, on May 30, Dinnah Singson was summoned by Sehjalal Kipgen to a Boljol village court. Wishing to discredit the protest, Kipgen ordered Dinnah to sign a statement denouncing Ohaliav Haokip, the General Secretary of the B’nei Menashe Council, for having coerced her into taking part in it. Shavei and the BMC have been in a state of conflict in Manipur for the past year, and Shavei has repeatedly accused the BMC of fomenting discontent against it.
Dinnah refused. She had demonstrated against Shavei of her own free will, she told Kipgen, and had not been pressured by anyone. Kipgen then demanded of Dinnah’s widowed mother Khana that she sign a statement saying that her daughter was lying. Breaking into tears, the old woman replied that she wouldn’t do it.
Kipgen then cast about for another means of attacking Ohaliav Haokip. Having heard of an argument that took place in Boljol between him and Yosef Chongloi, whose firm employs Ohaliav as a computer consultant, he decided to seize on it. Although this dispute, Chongloi has told our Newsletter, was work-related and purely verbal, and was settled amicably the next day, Kipgen now summoned Haokip to the Boljol court on the charge of having behaved violently on Boljol’s grounds.
“If you choose to ignore this notice,” the written summons said, hinting darkly at possible violence itself, “you will be responsible for what happens to you afterwards.” No less ominously, Kipgen summoned Chongloi as well and threatened him with a heavy fine if he did not testify against Haokip.
Haokip, who is not a resident of Boljol and is not subject to its jurisdiction, ignored the summons and filed a complaint with the Churachandpur police in which he accused Kipgen of “intimidation” and “bullying.”
Chongloi’s wife Tingneilam then telephoned Haokip, and in a conversation that the two of them agreed to record, the following exchange took place:
Tengneilam: I’m seriously worried….They [the Boljol village court] said that if Yosef does not testify against you, both of you will be penalized and fined. But if Yosef gives in and bears false witness, you’ll lose the case. And if we take your side, not only the two of us, but my mother, father, brother, and sisters will be hounded [by Shavei Israel].
Ohaliav: Let them say what they want. Your husband and I never even came close to exchanging blows.
Tengneilam: I know. It’s all Sehjalal’s scheming. Tsvi [Khaute] had informed us that we should prepare our passports so that he can apply for [Israeli] visas for us. When Sehjalal heard about this, he was so angered that he called an emergency meeting of Ohel Menashe [the B’nei Menashe synagogue in Boljol] and demanded that Yosef be struck from the Aliyah list. Tsvi scolded him for that. He told him that Yosef and his family can’t be kept from making Aliyah. Shavei is in financial straits and is totally dependent on Israeli government funding. If our family is kept from making Aliyah, it would be a disaster for them.
Ohaliav: Shavei won’t be able to manipulate the Aliyah lists anymore. Tsvi Khaute has been taught a lesson.
If Khaute indeed realizes that the days of using Aliyah as a weapon are over, says Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s executive director, it is because of Degel Menashe. “Once,” Thangjom told our Newsletter, “Shavei Israel would have routinely punished the Chonglois and Khana Singson by denying them Aliyah. Degel Menashe has presented Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption with dozens of documented cases of such and similar abuses by Shavei of its monopoly on B’nei Menashe Aliyah. Apparently, the ministry has to come the conclusion that such practices must stop and has informed Shavei of this in no uncertain terms. It doesn’t communicate with Tsvi Khaute directly. It speaks to Shavei Israel’s chairman Michael Freund, who must have passed the message on to him.
“We’re under no illusion that Shavei Israel will mend all its ways tomorrow morning,” Thangjom went on. “It remains a power-hungry organization and will continue to try cowing its opponents and critics into submission, just as Sehjalal Kipgen sought to do with the Singson and Chongloi families. I honestly hope, though, that we’ve seen the last of the days in which Shavei could hold Aliyah as a club over the heads of the entire B’nei Menashe community. Now that the Jewish Agency is officially entering the area of B’nei Menashe Aliyah and will supervise the composition and implementation of all future Aliyah lists, it’s time for the B’nei Menashe to lose their fear of Shavei. It’s the beginning of a new era.”