Shavei Israel To B’nei Menashe: Sign A Loyalty Oath Or No Aliyah!
Updated: Aug 27, 2021
(August 26) J.P. is a member in good standing of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe community, but he has asked for the initials of his name to be changed in order to protect his identity. He and his family are on the list of B’nei Menashe approved for Aliyah in 2016 who have not yet come to Israel and who are slated to compose the next group of immigrants in the months ahead J.P. has also been a supporter of the B’nei Menashe Council, the representative body chosen by Manipur’s B’nei Menashe last November in democratic elections that Shavei Israel sought to prevent and whose outcome it subsequently tried to undermine.
Recently, J.P. received a call on his mobile phone from Manipur’s Shavei Israel administrator Sehjalal Shlomo Kipgen. If he wished to make Aliya, Kipgen told him, he was required to report immediately to Shavei Israel headquarters at the Beit Shalom synagogue in Churachandpur , where he would be given a form to sign. J.P. relates:
“When I reached the office, I was directed to sit in a waiting room. There were two or three other B’nei Menashe there – whether for the same reason I was, or for something else, I don’t know. When my turn came, I was asked to enter an inner room. Sehjalal was sitting at a table. on the other side of which, typing on computers, were Avior Haokip [the editor of of Shavei News] and Bentzion Suantak [a Shavei activist]. Sehjalal handed me a typed statement in Kuki and said: ‘Read this. No one is forcing you to sign it. But remember:
Shavei Israel is in charge of the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah. Whether you sign or not is up to you. If you don’t, though, don’t blame anyone but yourself for losing your chance for Aliyah.”
J.P. was not allowed to take a copy of the document with him when he left and could not remember its exact wording. He did, however, recall five things that he was made to declare:
1. That his name had been put without his knowledge on a B’nei Menashe Council petition asking for the community’s Aliyah to be taken out of Shavei Israel’s hands. (Signed by over a thousand B’nei Menashe, this petition was sent last February to The Jewish Agency and Israel’s Ministry of Immigration.)
2. That he wished Shavei Israel to have sole jurisdiction over the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah with no involvement of outside organizations such as The Jewish Agency.
3. That he did not in any way support Degel Menashe or its activities.
4. That he regretted having registered as a BMC member and acknowledged the errors of his way.
5. That he did not recognize the BMC or its chairman W.L. Hangshing as legitimate representatives of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe.
“What could I do?” J.P. told our Newsletter. “Not a word of it was true, but I didn’t want to be taken off the Aliyah list with my family. I had no choice but to sign and I did.”
In recent days, our Newsletter has learned, this scene has been repeated many times at Beit Shalom. A phone call is made, a summons is issued to a family head to report to Shavei’s office, and the statement described by J.P. is handed him to sign with the same warning of what will happen if he refuses. The great majority of those contacted have come to the office and signed. They were encouraged to do so by Degel Menashe, which issued a communiqué, disseminated over B’nei Menashe social media, urging all prospective Aliyah candidates to submit to Shavei’s ultimatum rather than put their Aliyah at jeopardy.
“Shavei can make you sign a piece of paper,” said the Degel Menashe statement, “but it cannot make you change your thoughts and feelings. We know that in your hearts many of you will continue to support us. Sign what you are asked to sign with our blessing!”
Here is the full text of the WhatsApp announcement:
“What Shavei is doing is obscene,” says Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s executive director, in whose name the communiqué was issued. “It is using its control over the Aliyah process to coerce people into violating their consciences and knowingly putting their signatures to lies. It was a difficult decision for us to tell them to go ahead and sign, but we felt that we had to do it. Aliyah comes before all else. Once those who signed are in Israel and out from under Shavei’s thumb, they will be able to be their true selves again.”
Despite Degel Menashe’s urgings, there were those who refused to give in. One of them was Demsat Yosef Haokip , 57, a Churachandpur rice cultivator and BMC advisor. “I’m proud to be associated with the BMC,” he told our Newsletter, “and I won’t pretend otherwise. If anyone should be denounced, it’s Shavei for having divided our society by sabotaging the BMC."
Demsat continued.. "And I won’t sign anything against Degel Menashe, either. It’s the only organization that has taken our grievances seriously and that has provided aid during the Covid pandemic. Aliyah is my right. I don’t have to sell my soul to a corrupt organization like Shavei to be entitled to it.”
Bidan Lalthang Singson, 55, a rice farmer too, agreed. “In the end, I’m sure I’ll get to make Aliyah even if I don’t sign,” he said. “It’s been promised me by Minister Pnina [Tamano-Shata, Minister of Immigration] and I’m confident she’ll keep her word.”
And Nachshon Haokip, 37, a plumber and mason, declared:
“If Shavei wants me to sign, let them give me a copy of what I signed for my records and so that I can show everyone what I was made to do . Otherwise, they can forget about it.”