Wednesday June 20, 2018

Bnei Menashe: India’s Jewish “Lost Tribe” comes across tough times in Israel

Supposedly, Bnei Menashe is one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage

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The Western Wall of Israel. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
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  • Hanoch Haokip, who belongs to the Bnei Menashe tribe, claims that his tribe is one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage
  • These people who belong to Bnei Menashe live in the West Bank of Israel, where they are treated with contempt and have to face racism
  • There is the Shavei Israel, who aid the immigration of these Bnei Menashe members along with the Jewish Agency

Hanoch Haokip belongs to a small tribe of indigenous people in East India. He claims that he is the descendant of one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage. Even though ethnographers are not entirely sure of the claim, Haokip is certain. He made that clear in an interview in Akko town of Israel, his current residence. He said that they were time and again questioned by the rabbis of Israel during their official conversion.

The Haokip family. Image Source : shavei.org
The Haokip family. Image Source : shavei.org

“Of course, you understand that the rabbinate, the government, needs to do these things,” said Zeev Wagner, a member of an Orthodox social welfare group associated with Shavei Israel, to Forward.com. This organisation is responsible for bringing Haokip and other members of his group to Israel, right after they had claimed to be a part of Israel’s lost tribes.

Haokip seemed worried about the influence of Israel’s secular society on his young children. He says that the government should try to bring them closer to their culture and how they often are confronted with racism. Haokip stressed on the fact that he identified with Zionism and he had come there along with his people to become Jews and not Israelis.

The Akko tower, where families like that of the Haokips live. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
The Akko tower, where families like that of the Haokips live. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Jewish Agency which is the organisation widely known for arranging for immigration for the Jews sided with the Shavei Israel for the Bnei Menashe immigration. The Shavei Israel is accused of exploiting the Bnei Menashe people and settling them down on the Jewish West Bank where they consider the group as illegal since they derive their support from Israel.

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The major portion of the Bnei Menashe residents in the Jewish Western Bank is made up of youths whose parents are absent. Thus they have to work long hours and become easily exposed to drugs and alcohol. Haokip believes that about 90% of Bnei Menashe youth have “lost their way” basically because they are confused about which culture they should follow.

Rabbi. Image Source : feujn.org
Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. Image Source : feujn.org

Originally, the Bnei Menashe identified themselves as descendants of one of the sons of Joseph. Their culture is about 2,700 years old. Some of the distinct groups of this tribe are Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, a conglomerate of different tribes speaking various dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages. It was about 400 years ago that this community came to settle down in Manipur and Mizoram in India. In India, they were converted twice. Once when Christian missionaries forcefully converted many people into Protestant Christians and then again when they were encountered by an Orthodox rabbi from Jerusalem, Eliyahu Avichail. He was the one who coined the name “Bnei Menashe” for them and encouraged their return to Judaism.

The members of the Bnei Menashe entering Israel in 2006. Image Source : ynetnews.com
The members of the Bnei Menashe entering Israel in 2006. Image Source : ynetnews.com

In the early 2000s, the immigration issue of the Bnei Menashe become very prominent and was backed by certain religious groups. In 2006, a huge number of the tribe came to Israel. Michael Freund has declared the group to be “seed of Israel” meaning that they are a group whose religious identity does not recognise them as Jewish but their proven links to Jewish ancestry has given them the right to immigrate to Israel. But again, in 2015, a report by Judy Maltz, a Haaretz reporter said that the Bnei Menashe have no proof of their connection to a Jewish ancestry.

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Since 2005, no organisation had supported the immigration of Bnei Menashe. “For a country struggling to find potential new sources of immigration,” Freund had explained to Forward, “groups such as the Bnei Menashe and others like them might very well provide the answer.”

The Bnei Menashe people were greeted heartily by Israel upon their arrival in 2006. Image Source : ivarfjeld.com
The Bnei Menashe people were greeted heartily by Israel upon their arrival in 2006. Image Source : ivarfjeld.com

Several genetic examinations have been done to find out the truth about the origin of Bnei Menashe. Karl Skorecki had conducted such a resource and had found no evidence that would link them to the Middle east origin. Further study was conducted in India where the Bnei Menashe’s claim was proven true. However, the Indian Centre has been accused of being careless with the DNA sequencing. But Karl Skorecki had admitted that sometimes it becomes impossible to identify a group with their ancestors when thousands of years have passed in between.

Goita, lighting a candle. Image Source : forward.com
Goita, lighting a candle. Image Source : forward.com

Many of the orphaned children of the Bnei Menashe community have said that their adoptive Israeli mothers take very good care of them and have saved them from an unhealthy lifestyle. “Since arriving at the age of 8, I’ve learned to connect with the land, to have the confidence to fulfil and defend the promises of Zionism,” said Goita to the Forward.com. “This is something that we were always yearning for back home in India.” He appreciates how social workers like Beit Miriam celebrate “Roots Night” for them to remember their cultural and religious heritage.

Shimrit Zentusawn Ngaihte, who is a 20-year-old Bnei Menashe member, is sad about the fact that she has a very limited vocabulary of Hebrew. So, in order to become better at her mother tongue, she had petitioned the government to increase their tenure of the Hebrew language classes from five to eight months. As the Bnei Menashe community continues to grow in Israel, with more and more immigrants coming in, this step taken by Shimrit has become essential.

-This article is modified by Aitreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram.

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Tribes are always most vulnerable part of a community and this is prevalent in case of Bnei Menashe in Israel.

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Unusual Iranian Military Activity Detected in Lebanon: Israeli Intelligence

Pirzadeh is a member of the Iran National Council for Free Elections, a dissident group founded by U.S.-based Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi.

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A prominent Iranian-Israeli journalist says Israeli intelligence sources have reported unusual activities by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Lebanon.
Iran Military Flag, wikimedia commons

A prominent Iranian-Israeli journalist says Israeli intelligence sources have reported unusual activities by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Lebanon.

Speaking to VOA Persian’s special program about President Donald Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal, Menashe Amir said his intelligence sources detected the IRGC activities in Lebanon on Tuesday. Amir, who is based near Jerusalem, said the nature of those activities was not specified but he believed they could involve IRGC forces bringing Iranian missiles closer to Israel’s borders in preparation for an attack.

In the past few days, Israeli officials increasingly have warned of a potential Iranian strike in retaliation for recent Israeli military action in Syria aimed at curbing Iranian efforts to establish military bases there.

Amir said Israeli media were reporting increased activity by Israeli military aircraft in northern Israel on Tuesday. He said Israel may take military action against Iranian missile sites in the region to preempt any Iranian strikes. Iran has vowed to avenge recent attacks on its forces and their allies in Syria, without detailing the timing or nature of its response. Israel has acknowledged intervening militarily in the years-long Syrian civil war, but rarely has claimed credit for specific attacks.

Iran has long supported and supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which has an influential role in the Lebanese government and whose forces rival those of the Lebanese military. But the extent of Iran’s deployment of its own IRGC forces in Lebanon is not clear. STRATFOR, a U.S. publisher of intelligence analysis, reported in 2010 that there were about 4,000 IRGC troops in Lebanon at the time, deployed among five different bases. Amir said Iran and Hezbollah also have used Lebanese territory to train militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Iran has long supported and supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which has an influential role in the Lebanese government and whose forces rival those of the Lebanese military.
Iran Military Activity in Lebanon, VOA

The revelation of unusual Iranian military activity in Lebanon coincided with Trump’s announcement of his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Tuesday. Under the deal, his predecessor Barack Obama and leaders of five other world powers suspended sanctions against Tehran in return for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

In another interview on the VOA Persian special program, Paris-based Iranian opposition figure Reza Pirzadeh called the U.S. withdrawal a “big defeat” for Iran’s ruling Islamist clerics.

“Our job is not to let the Islamic Republic’s defeat turn into a defeat for the Iranian people, but rather into an opportunity for them to realize the freedom they deserve and save all of us from the evil of the regime,” he said.

Pirzadeh is a member of the Iran National Council for Free Elections, a dissident group founded by U.S.-based Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised statement following Trump’s announcement, said Iran will consult with European powers, Russia and China in the next few weeks to determine if it is in Iranian interests to remain in the 2015 nuclear deal. He also vowed that the U.S. will not succeed in hurting the Iranian economy by re-imposing nuclear-related sanctions.

But the U.S. pullout from the deal has put European powers in a tough spot in their economic ties with Iran, according to prominent Iranian journalist Alireza Nourizadeh.

Speaking to the VOA Persian show from London, Nourizadeh highlighted the case of Austria’s seventh-biggest bank Oberbank, which had signed a deal with Iranian officials last September to finance Austrian projects in Iran.

Austrian media reported in late March and early April that Oberbank put the deal on hold ahead of a possible decision by Trump to quit the nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions. The deal would have made Oberbank one of the first European banks to do business with Iran since the 2015 deal took effect.

Also Read: Women in Chilean Universities Ask to End Gender Violence 

 Leaders of the three EU signatories to the deal, Britain, France and Germany, promised to keep abiding by the Iran nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal.

In separate remarks on the VOA Persian program from Los Angeles, senior advisor to the Iranian American Jewish Federation Sam Kermanian said the European powers and the previous Obama administration had expected that the deal would dissuade Iran from pursuing regional domination.

“They hoped Iran would use the deal’s economic benefits to help the Iranian people and save them from pressure and misery. Unfortunately, this did not happen,” Kermanian said. (VOA)