“This Is The First Time That I Have Heard Of These Allegations”: Is He To Be Believed?
Updated: Jan 29
(January 23) In a dramatic announcement made over the B’nei Menashe Facebook site Menashe Hayom, Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund has professed shock at learning of the 2016 rape in Manipur of a B’nei Menashe child by a fellow member of the community.
“This is the first time,” Freund declared, “that I have heard of these allegations and if there is any truth to them, they are simply horrifying.”
“Given the seriousness of these accusations,” Freund went on in his Facebook post, “I cannot remain silent, and I am writing to you, the leaders of the community, in both Israel and India, to request that you please send me a full and detailed account as soon as possible in order to clarify what occurred.”
Can Michael Freund really never have heard prior to this week of the rape of the eight-year-old? “There are really only two possibilities,” says Yitzhak Thangjom, executive director of Degel Menashe. “Either Freund is lying, or else he is living on the moon.”
The case of Sarah Baite and her daughter, Thangjom told our Newsletter, should have come to Michael Freund’s attention in the summer of 2020 when Sarah asked Degel Menashe to forward to Israel’s minister of immigration and absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata an English translation of a letter she had written to her.
“In late August of that year,” says Thangjom, “I personally handed Sarah’s letter, which told the story of her daughter’s rape and Shavei Israel’s attempted silencing of it, to Almog Moscowitz, a senior aide at the ministry, with the request that he pass it on to Tamano-Shata along with many other complaints against Shavei. Then, afraid that it might get lost among so many documents, I emailed it to Moscowitz separately in early September. It was understood that he would convey it not only to the minister but to Michael Freund and Shavei as well.”
Thangjom says he can only assume that this was done. But even if Moscowitz was derelict in his duty, he says, “Freund should already have known about the rape of Sarah Baite’s daughter two years earlier, in 2018.” That, he states, was when Ohaliav Haokip, today General Secretary of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe Council, sent an 18-page letter to Freund, via Laura Ben-David, Shavei Israel’s Director of Marketing, detailing the many flagrant offenses of Shavei’s Manipur leadership.
An entire page of this letter, with photographs of Sarah Baite and her daughter’s alleged rapist, was prominently devoted to the incident. “It’s highly unlikely,” says Thangjom, “that Ben-David failed to transmit such a serious and damning letter to Freund, even though Haokip never received an answer. I don’t know whether Michael Freund didn’t think it worth responding to or whether he simply threw it in the trash without reading it.”
And yet, Thangjom asks, even if Sarah Baite’s story failed to reach Michael Freund by means of either Almog Moscowitz or Laura Ben-David, is it conceivable that Shavei Israel’s chairman was not aware in the past month of the December 23 debate in Israel’s Knesset between MK Miri Regev and Minister of Immigration Pnina Tamano-Shata, in which Regev accused Shavei, among other things, of covering up rape?
“The YouTube video of the debate went viral among the B’nei Menashe,” Thangjom says. “It had over 2,500 viewers. Can it be that the whole B’nei Menashe community knew about it and that only Michael Freund didn’t? If he’s telling the truth, it can only mean that he isn’t remotely in touch with the community that his organization is supposed to be serving. In that case, I suggest that Shavei Israel find itself a new chairman. And I also have a suggestion for Freund regarding his appeal for ‘a full and detailed account’ of what happened to Sarah Baite and her daughter. Let him begin by reading what Ohaliav Haokip wrote to him in 2018. If he no longer has a copy of it, I’ll be glad to provide him with one.”