The Jerusalem Post
Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui) announced that he has decided to stop members of the Bnei Menashe group from coming to Israel. Over the last decade, some 800 members of the group from the Mizo tribe in northeastern India, which claims descent from a lost tribe of Israel, have immigrated, converted, and settled here.
A spokesman explained that, upon taking office, Poraz decided to reexamine every subject under the ministry´s jurisdiction. Over the last seven years, the ministry has issued 100 tourist permits a year to the Bnei Menashe as a first step in the immigration process.
Michael Freund of Amishav, an organization that assists descendents of Jews seeking to return to the Jewish people, expressed surprise at the sudden decision. “We have always worked in full cooperation with all the relevant authorities, including the Interior Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel…
“There are another 5,000 to 6,000 Bnei Menashe in northeastern India, and they all want to immigrate to Israel. Their aliya has been gradual, because Amishav funds it alone, with no help from the government or the Jewish Agency. There is simply no reason why this aliya should be stopped in the middle.”
Said Hillel Halkin, author of Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel: “These people are being treated very badly. My opinion is that there is some very incredible link between them and the lost tribes, but even apart from that, this group of people from a remote corner of the world is seriously attracted to Judaism.”
The belief started to spread in the 1950s among the Bnei Menashe that they were descended from an ancient tribe of Israel, and by the ´70s, they began to feel that they should live as such. The first contact with Israel was made only in the late ´80s.
Added Halkin, “My sense is that Poraz, like many secular Israelis, think so little of Judaism, that they can´t think that anyone else would be attracted to it. Their first reaction is, ´What do these people really want? We know Judaism and there´s nothing attractive about it.´”
Asked about the complaint sometimes voiced by Shinui leaders that only Third World residents seem interested in converting and immigrating to Israel, Halkin replied that Israel is full of converts from countries such as Holland, but unlike the Bnei Menashe or a group from Peru that recently immigrated, they had no Jewish congregations to join in their native country and so have converted as groups.
The Amishav organization noted that the absorption of the Bnei Menashe in Israel has been smooth, and that all its young men serve in combat units.