Shavei Strong Arm Tactics Continue In Manipur With Synagogue Putsch
(March 31) Shavei Israel’s open flouting of both the law and elementary rules of democracy continued last week with an attempted putsch at Churachandpur’s Beth Shalom synagogue, the largest B’nei Menashe religious center in North East India.
The putsch took place on March 24, when Shavei operatives, having illegally announced a snap by-election for Beth Shalom’s Executive two days earlier seized the synagogue’s premises, packing the building with Shavei’s supporters while denying access to its opponents, and “voted” into office an unopposed list of Shavei candidates.
Shavei’s motives were clear. In recent years, the Beth Shalom Executive has angered Shavei by asserting its independence and refusing to submit to the Jerusalem-based organization’s dictates as it had done in the past. Evenly split between pro-and anti-Shavei members, the Executive sought to follow a policy of neutrality. It made the synagogue available as a center for the emergency distribution of food to Covid-stricken B’nei Menashe families in the autumn of 2020, and again in the spring and summer of 2021, in defiance of Shavei’s opposition to the aid campaign. It hosted 2020 elections for a new B’nei Menashe Council – the first democratically chosen BMC in years, whose emergence Shavei sought to prevent. It refused to take sides in the ensuing battle between Shavei and the BMC, which saw Shavei fraudulently attempt to create a rump council of its own. And most recently, it has offered its premises to the newly opened Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail School, a BMC-sponsored educational initiative.
Last December, Beth Shalom Chairman L. Zevulin Haokip, passed away. As mandated by the synagogue’s by-laws, its Vice-Chairman, Rafael Hangshing, who belongs to the anti-Shavei faction, assumed the post of Acting Chairman and the Executive scheduled an election for November of this year in which a new Chairman and Executive would be chosen. This would provide sufficient time, it was argued, for prospective candidates to declare themselves and campaign for support.
Yet Shavei Israel was not interested in democratic elections. It feared they might not go its way and it did not want to wait for its opponents to organize. On Monday, March 22, Tarfon Baite, the pro-Shavei chairman of Beth Shalom’s BSY youth group, posted a social media notice that the vote for a new Executive would take place two days later, on March 24. And on the evening of Tuesday, March 23, after the Executive’s General Secretary, Avichiel Manchong, had proclaimed the call for a snap election illegal, Shavei Israel activists, led by Shavei’s Manipur Co-ordinator Benjamin Nehmang Haokip, invaded and violently broke up a class at the Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail School [see last week’s Website article “Shavei Hooligans Storm Churachandpur Classroom”] in a pointed demonstration of what they would do to anyone seeking to thwart the illegal vote.
At 11 a.m. the next morning, the same activists forcibly took over Beth Shalom, drove opponents of Shavei Israel from the building, set up a ballot box in one of its rooms, and posted guards at the synagogue’s entrance to monitor those coming to participate in the vote. All identified as Shavei backers were admitted, while all who were not were turned away.
The results of the vote were announced by Shavei days two later, on Saturday, March 26, in the course of Shabbat services in the synagogue. Shavei’s list of candidates, headed by Seithang Haokip, chairman of the pre-2020 B’nei Menashe Council in its days as a Shavei puppet body, was declared victorious by a vote of 99 to 0. Since Beth Shalom’s membership numbers approximately 500, this meant that the turnout was only twenty percent and that many pro-Shavei B’nei Menashe stayed away, too, despite Tarfon Baite’s call for “every household to turn up at the election.”
What will happen next at Beth Shalom is unclear. The synagogue now has two Executives, two Chairmen, and two sets of officials, one in the pro- and one in the anti-Shavei camp. The latter, our Manipur source told us, is now contemplating legal action to obtain a court order nullifying Shavei’s putsch. “This all could have been avoided,” our source said, “if Shavei had been willing to wait until November and hold an honest election then. Perhaps it might even have won. But trusting in the democratic process has never been Shavei’s way. It would rather split the B’nei Menashe community in two than let it settle matters peacefully by a fair vote.”