Israeli parliamentary committee says 7 members of India’s Bnei Menashe community killed in rocket attack near synagogue


UPDATE: Members of the Bnei Menashe community say reports of deaths in the community were not true. According to video from Israel’s Knesset, the parliamentary committee’s press release appears to have misquoted a representative of the community, who never said seven community members had been killed. Local police in India likewise did not report the casualties.

(JTA) — Seven members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community were killed Monday in a rocket attack near a synagogue in the Indian state of Manipur, according to an Israeli parliamentary body.

The attack, which occurred amid ongoing interethnic conflict in the eastern Indian state, was not meant to target Jews, said a press release from the Israeli Knesset’s Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee.

This is at least the third instance in recent months in which the community in the Manipur area — composed of practicing Jews who hope to emigrate to Israel — has been affected by the conflict. Two synagogues and ritual baths had already been burned down due to the conflict. One community member was killed in May.

The violence in Manipur, a state east of Bangladesh that borders Myanmar, began in May. It stemmed from student protests against an effort to grant “scheduled tribe” status to the Meitei community, which makes up more than half of the state’s population of more than 3 million. That status comes with special employment and education benefits reserved for other minority tribal groups, who say the Meitei community already benefits from extensive representation. The Bnei Menashe belong to the Kuki tribe. In the past, members of the Jewish community in Manipur have been targeted because they are dual minorities — both Kuki-Mizo and Jewish.

The Bnei Menashe believe they are descended from the Israelite tribe of Menasseh, one of the “lost tribes” of ancient times. That claim was endorsed in 2005 by Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, who affirmed the Bnei Menashe’s status as a “lost tribe,” though some researchers and officials cast doubt on those claims. Due to their “lost tribe” status, Bnei Menashe Jews have undergone formal Orthodox conversion following their immigration to Israel, which began in the 1990s.

Some 5,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community have immigrated to Israel, including almost 1,500 in the past five years, according to the press release. Another 5,500 still live in India and are waiting to immigrate. About 4,000 live in Manipur, and another 600 live in the neighboring Mizoram region.

The Absorption Committee, chaired by lawmaker Oded Forer, held a discussion Tuesday on Bnei Menashe immigration and the community’s integration in Israel’s job market.

“The State of Israel must promote the immigration of the members of the community who remain in India,” Forer said, according to the press release.

He said the Knesset had not prioritized the immigration of the Bnei Menashe community, which he called a “historical mistake.”

“Last night the community of Bnei Menashe buried seven people who were killed as a result of a bomb falling near the synagogue,” said Tzvi Khaute, coordinator of the Bnei Menashe in Israel for Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that has facilitated and advocated for the community’s immigration, according to the press release. “I am begging thart this community be allowed to immigrate to Israel. Every day that they stay in India and do not immigrate to Israel, they risk their lives.”

Other figures remarked on the challenges facing Bnei Menashe community members who want to immigrate to Israel — including undergoing an Orthodox conversion and finding employment after they arrive — but said the need to get them to Israel was paramount.

“There are riots in northern India, but the very identification of the Bnei Menashe community as Jews does not pose a danger,” said Michal Wheeler Tal, director of the Southeast Asia section of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, according to the press release. “We recommend that the community that remains in India immigrate to Israel, but with a low profile, in order to avoid being criticized for intervening in the internal affairs of the state. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will help in every way to bring the members of the community to Israel.”

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