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Members of Jewish Community in India Killed After Rocket Hits Their Synagogue

Seven members of the Northeast Indian Bnei Menashe community members were killed Monday when their synagogue was hit by a rocket, the Knesset’s Diaspora affairs committee said Tuesday. It is unclear who fired the rocket.

The attack is not considered antisemitic, since it was not meant to target Jews as such, but rather comes on the background of the Kuki-Meitei strife that has convulsed India’s northeastern state of Manipur since May, the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee said. However, the incident compounds the Indian Jews’ desire to come to Israel, following their internal displacement as a result of the inter-ethnic fighting.

A press release from the committee noted that there are some 5,500 Bnei Menashe members in India waiting to join about 5,000 community members in Israel. MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu), who heads the committee, criticized the Aliyah and Integration government office for procrastinating on the issue of Bnei Menashe, given the dangerous predicament in Manipur.

In the committee’s discussion on Tuesday, Michal Willer Tal, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Southeast Asia desk, reiterated that the danger Bnei Menashe were facing was not a result of their identifying as Jewish. She advised that Israel assist the community’s emigration, but added that this effort should be “low profile,” to avoid the semblance of intervention in India’s internal affairs.

Since May of last year, the state of Manipur, which shares a border with Bangladesh, has been rocked by violence between the Christian-majority Kuki and Hindu-majority Meitei tribal umbrellas, with the Jewish community of Bnei Menashe aligning with the former. According to Reuters, at least 180 people have been killed since the start of hostilities. Early in the conflict, Meitei militants burned down two synagogues, killing a Bnei Menashe community member.

The inter-ethnic strife began when some 50,000 Kuki members protested the Indian government’s intention to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei, which would give them reserved quotas for government jobs and college admissions. The Kuki, who are a Scheduled Tribe, oppose granting the privilege to the Meitei, claiming that the latter tribe, which makes up some 53% of Manipur’s population, is already overrepresented in the state.

Bnei Menashe is a community in northeast India that claims descent from the ancient Israelite tribe of Manasseh, which, according to the biblical story, was among the first Hebrew tribes to be exiled. Over the past two decades, their immigration to Israel has been encouraged and subsidized by the Israeli government, in cooperation with two non-governmental groups, Shavei Israel and Degel Menashe.

Though their Judaism claim was endorsed in 2005 by then-Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, Bnei Menashe community members have been required to undergo an Orthodox conversion ritual in order to be resettled in Israel.