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Indian Jews caught in ethnic crossfire: one killed; synagogues torched

TJI Wrap
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Published: 9 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The Bnei Menashe community is begging Israel to rescue them after homes and synagogues were burned in a flare-up of sectarian violence.

Members of India’s Bnei Menashe have called on Israel to mount a rescue mission after the community found itself caught up in violent ethnic clashes in the north-eastern state of Manipur this week.

Yoel Bayta, a father of four, was killed, 10 other members of the community are missing, and over 200 homes were torched in the violence. Two synagogues were burned down, and a Torah scroll was torched.

Bayta is one of at least five people killed in violence that erupted between the predominantly Christian Kuki tribal communities, which includes the Jewish Bnei Menashe, and the predominantly Hindu Meitei ethnic community in Manipur.

The violence began when 50,000 Kukis protested demands by the Meitei to be included under the government’s “Scheduled Tribe” category. Under Indian law, members of such tribes are given reserved quotas for government jobs and college admissions as a form of affirmative action to address structural inequality and discrimination.

“The area of Northeast India, where the Bnei Menashe community lives, is saturated with severe ethnic conflicts and the men and women of the community are in constant danger,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, a not-for-profit that helps anyone with Jewish ancestry migrate to Israel.

According to Freund, Bnei Menashe are not being specifically targeted. “It’s not traditional antisemitism in the sense that they’re not being targeted because they’re Jews,” he said.

But Freund said that he has received reports from staff on the ground that some Meitei rioters have yelled at them to “go back to Israel where you belong.”

 “I call on the Israeli government to make the necessary decision and bring them to Israel immediately in an emergency operation before many more are killed. This is the order of the hour,” he said.

The Bnei Menashe considers themselves descendants of the Menashe tribe, but their halachic status has long been controversial. About 5000 Bnei Menashe are already in Israel and the remaining 5000 members of the community in India have been requesting support to immigrate to Israel for many years. 

Donations to help Bnei Menashe can be made via this link.


Bnei Menashe community member killed, 2 synagogues torched in India violence (Times of Israel)

Bnei Menashe: community members demand aliyah, killed in violent India unrest (Jerusalem Post)

Sudan migrants in Israel worry over future, fighting at home (ABC, US)
Sudanese migrants in Israel are watching the fighting roiling their nation with trepidation

Photo: Homes and businesses ablaze in the state of Manipur, in northeast India, after sectarian clashes   last week (Twitter)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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