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ZO-Naga and Bnei Menashe triangle: Are we redefining the Menashe

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

By Yochanan Phaltual

When India attained independence in 1947, North East India has been cut out into many small states, each imbued with the British ideology of encouraging ethnic, sub-ethnic, religious and linguistic identities. The divisions of states based on claims and counterclaims of vague ethnic constituencies and borders resulted in instability of the whole Northeastern states till today.
The categorization of the so-called tribal groups remained a bubbling cauldron and vulnerable to secessionist movements. To name few among the myriad of tribes classified by the British which try to achieve a “Nation” status were the Kuki,Chin,Mizo,Naga and Zomi (post colonial entry).  The revivalist-cum-awakening movement for tribes and ethnic conglomerations has the objective to establish a Sovereign State or Autonomous settlement by unifying their self-inclusive tribal/sub-ethnic cognates in all their inhabited areas in the North East India, Burma and Bangladesh.

The unifying movements led to the demand for ZALENGAM by the Kuki, NAGALIM by the Nagas and MIZORAM by the Mizo. Mizoram attained the status of ‘state’ in 1987 after a period of armed insurgency starting in the 1960s by the Mizo National Front (MNF) under Pu Laldenga. And the Zo Reunification Organization (ZoRO) established at Champhai in Mizoram in 1988, as a political forum to unify the ZO race is gaining ground with the President Pu Thangmawia and Kuki National Organization (KNO) President Pu PS Haokip sharing the same ideology and working in close tandem.
Meanwhile, about forty years ago there was another re-awakening and consciousness movement in Churachandpur among the Kuki- Chin-Mizo-Zomi groups postulating themselves as the LOST TRIBE OF ISRAEL. These groups were a non-political organization but, purely a religious group trying to embrace and revive the creed and belief of the once long lost identity of MANMASI, a biblical version of MENASHE.

The Menashe movement gains momentum under vile and discrimination with the establishment of “formal Judaism” from 1976 in Churachandpur in Manipur and further propelled by connection and helped from AMISHAV under Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. A real powerful movement and internationalization of the issue of MENASHE began with the worked and assistance of the SHAVEI ISRAEL organization under Pu Michael Freund since 2003. There is no turning back as the issues of the Bnei Menashe now crisscrossed all sections of societies and organizations and touching even states governments on both sides of the country- India and Israel
On the other side, the ZO Reunification movement gain ground under the aegis of ZoRO and KNO. At last year Chavang Kut in Moreh, the unity championed by the two organizations bore fruits as there were high profile dignataries of the Kachin from Burma, the Konyak from Nagaland, the Karbi from Assam, the Heimi from Arunachal Pradesh and, the Zaliangrong from Tamenglong (Manipur). PS Haokip in his key note speech, clarify and dispel certain misgivings that have been propounded concerning their identity by declaring  them as blood brothers of the Kukis. Manipur Deputy CM Gaikhanngam Gangmei as Chief Guest of the events also expresses his subscribtion of the Zaliangrong Nagas as kindred of Kukis.

On May 2014 at the Third Session of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)at New York in USA, Pu Thangmawia and PS Haokip stated the oneness of the Zo people and the right to be a single political entity. According to PS Haokip's UNPFII speech,Kuki, Mizo, Kachin and Chin collectively comprises the ZO people.

At M.Songgel in Churachandpur, in March 2013, Prof. Za Gun from Kachin state shared his views on similarities of dialects, customs and culture between the Kachin and the Kuki. In 2013 ZoRO conferences in Moreh and Saikul, the Kukis of Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and Tripura sent representatives. And in February 2015 at Kholmun playground in Churachandpur, the 123 anniversary of Fort William Calcutta was celebrated by ZoRO and attended by dignitaries from Zaliangrong . The conference is to marked the British effort to resolved to put the ZO divided race together in the historic Chin-Lushai (Mizo) conference held at Fort William Calcutta in January,1892. 

In January 2015, the 10th anniversary of Menashe Cultural Troupe (MCT) was held at B.Vengnuom community hall with PS Haokip and Dr HH Mate as Chief Guest and Guest of Honour respectively. On this historic day PS Haokip clearly affirmed that all the ZO were descendent of Menashe and the same theme is equally accorded by Dr Mate.

So, is the issue of Bnei Menashe is to be politicize by using as an umbrella  organization and what seems to be the future?

When we feel the slow political wind of change, there is also a new development in the Bnei Menashe Organization (BMC) which spring forth a parley of debate and discussion.The BMC admission of hardly a minyan of 15 Nagas families following Judaism religion from Khoupum and Tupul area in November 2014 sparked off controversial and contradicting opinions, with most people not able to sober up.

There is nothing to panic about the issue. If we approach by the present political movement of unification we can say somehow that they were part of the Kuki. And at the same time those few groups also claim to be related to the SINGSON/SINGSIT sub-clan of Kuki.

There are two groups presently in the Naga society which follow Judaism and assert to be Kuki. One group is the Zaliangrong group of Tupul and Khoupum area and the Chakpikarong  (Chandel disrtict)Anal group. The Anal, Mayon, Monsang, Chiru and Maring were OLD KUKI according to William Shaw's (1929) "Notes on Thadou-Kuki".

The two periphery group has had contact with the Bnei Menashe Council in India (BMC) since the early 1990s when they were professing Messianic Christianity faith. In 1992 they attended a lectured on "faith of Judaism-Christianity dichotomy" by Pu Makkabi Touthang at  Old Lambulane in Imphal at "Shalom Inn" of (late) Pu JK Gangte's. During.During the BMC Presidenships of Pu Makkabi Touthang, Pu Amihud Phaltual and Pu T.Aviel Hangshing, the group came to meet them many times and the BMC leaders welcome without any objection of their request for admission into Judaism but, their request of their tribes to become a Bnei Menashe was unacceptable on the ground that it is more of political issue and the BMC being merely a religious organization.

As the previous and the current BMC's leaders wills to take the group into the fold of Judaism, there is nothing inconsiderable of the decision to be within the fold of BMC,for Judaism is open to any person. 

BUT, can anyone wanting to become a Bnei Menashe acceptable and who really are the Bnei Menashe ?

The Bnei Menashe were one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and that in their exile lands they were known under the classification of ethnic groups such as the Kukis, Chin, Mizo and Zomi.

The Nagas are not Bnei Menashe and they have not even one clues or folk-songs or tales to prove to be a Menashe. They traced their origin to be somewhere from mainland China or Southeast Asia.Nagaland state officially recognizes 17 Naga tribes in 2012. Prominent among them were the Sumi,Angami,Ao,Konyak,Lotha,Zaliangrong (Zemi,Liangmai and Rongmei),Mao,Tangkhul,Chiru,Maring,Moyon,Maram, etc.

The big question arise - How is it possible that some Naga tribes can be blood brothers of Kukis? According to "theory of human migratory", the inflow of migrants  over a period of century has caused friction of population (due to intermarriage) which continue till today. So, some Kukis over the past might had married the Nagas as some case of today and became part of the community and just because of this it would be wrong to say that one whole particular tribe of the Nagas is Kuki.
The Nagas apex civil-cum-political bodies like the Naga Hoho in Nagaland and the United Naga's Council (UNC)in Manipur will never allow and accept any Naga tribes to be officially annex outside the Naga society. In the early 1980s a local research scholar Pu Thangsei Singson of Phungchongjang (the village vanished during the Naga-Kuki crisis) in Tamenglon district was so successful in his genealogical research work that many of Pamei and Rongmei Nagas claims to be Singson,Misao,Chongloi and Hangshing. Sadly, he stopped his fieldwork after he received death threats from the NSCN(IM).

There is wide and different approach and objectives between the Unification movements and the Bnei Menashe. Though we need to have cordial understanding with them,we have different problems and concerns for the Bnei Menashe people in diaspora and in Israel. Our future have many challenges and let me mention only four points.

One, the population of Bnei Menashe is only around 7000 as recorded by the Israeli government. The number cannot remain the same in the news and media after every aliya.There will be a breakout time and what if it happen.The growth of Bnei Menashe is slow but it is irreversible and we are on the march. A time can come when people embraces Judaism in droves and there will be new thinking and big movement but that's still a far distance from now

Two, anyone cannot be Bnei Menashe and not everyone can use the banner of Bnei Menashe to make Aliyah. We do not make aliya just because we are clubbed together as Kuki,Mizo,chin and Zomi but, rather because we are the Bnei Menashe of  Kuki,Mizo,Chin and Zomi people observing the religion of Menashe, that is, Judaism. For Aliya you should be a Bnei Menashe Judaism.
Three, the seemingly simple issue of the new members under the supervision of BMC can have big problem in the distant future, as it will surely effect the Naga and Kuki society  like nuclear chain reactions because their seemingly dual status of Kuki and Naga will be a bone of contention. And, ultimately it will have bad ramification in Israel. If those few group remain static, that will be fine. However, if their growth rate in Judaism bloom in 10/20 years, there will a political upheaval and not a sign of peace.

Lastly, we the Bnei Menashe will one day be the pillar and bastion of the Chin,Kuki,Mizo and Zomi . In the coming days, every political organizations and unification movements will aspire to use the name  MENASHE or ISRAEL as a generic name to cobbled all nomenclatures under Menashe umbrella. And here we should always remember that our greatest source of strength and power is and will always be TORAH AND MITZVOT.

We should think long-term and built for the future.

# The writer is a contributor of articles to the largest circulated English News Paper "The Sangai Express" and "Eimi Times" in Manipur.



Monday, May 11, 2015

By Yokhanan Phaltual

 It was 2009, I first saw Barack Obama in his nationwide televised presidential election campaign speech with the slogan “Change we believe in”. He is a gifted speaker who captivated his audiences. He ran for President as a pro-Israel candidate, but unfortunately his record tells a different story. This President has done more to delegitimize and undermine Israel’s position in the world than any other Presidents of the United States.

 US-Israel relations have been especially tense over the past weeks, with US President giving a particularly cold reception to Israeli Prime Minister’s Binyamin Netanyahu re-election. The many harsh statements that have been made over the past weeks are not in vacuum.

The multi condemnations are indeed a form of revenge from the Obama Administration against Bibi Netanyahu. The White House has three main motives, one revenge for Netanyahu’s speech in Congress (US Parliament). Two, frustration. It is no secret that they were involved in an attempt to bring down Netanyahu. The V15 campaign failed. Three, the US government’s attempt to shift the focus of negotiations with Iran to the Palestinian issue.
Obama’s sensitive relationship with Netanyahu was strained further by comments Netanyahu made in the closing moments of his successful campaign for re-election, saying a Palestinian state would not be established as long as he is Prime Minister. The remarks were widely interpreted as a rejection of the “two-state solution” that has been the basis of talks to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, brokered by the American administrations.

But the day after the elections, Netanyahu was quick to backtrack on his statement, arguing that he was not rejecting a Palestinian statehood in principle, but responding to a reality in which the Palestinian Authority has a political pact with the Islamist group Hamas, under which statehood would be unacceptable. However, Obama is still hurt and cannot get over it.

For  the last six years, Obama has acted as if the biggest threat to American security is the Israeli government and the Likud party, and not Iran, which is on the rampage all the way to the Mediterranean, and even into Yemen, and which is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon. For six years, Obama has failed to develop a relationship of trust and reliable and quiet communication channels with the Israeli Prime Minister. Obama wanted Israel and its PM to bend to his demands, he repeatedly called for Israel to implement “a two-state solution” and return to the suicidal borders of 1967.

 Twelve Jewish Congressmen recently conveyed a massage of cease-and-desist to US President regarding his persistent attacks on Netanyahu after the latter’s re-election. Obama is just upset about what Netanyahu said ruling out a two state solution, but Obama didn’t need to keep reminding them and everyone else. He had to stop acting as if the Israeli PM’s comments are the only thing holding up a peace process that’s been abandoned for a year while not expressing a word of disappointment about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the provocative recognition bid at the United Nations.

 Obama is a bit out of control, as his days in White House are coming to an end in next year, he is desperate to accomplish something on foreign policy, and there is not one thing that the President can say “look what I accomplish”. Only his batch of honour will be the killing of Osama bin Laden during his first tenure as US President.
However, the relationship between Israel and United States is going to be fine despite the personal dispute Obama has fuelled. The American Administration’s treatments of the Jewish State sometimes have bumps on the road. Israel’s defiance of a US’s president is not new. And it is not the first time a President threatens or refused to support Israel when the Israeli PM deny to submit to the US demands.

Harry S. Truman was a great friend of Israel and good comrade of Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel. He was a key figure in the establishment of Medinat Israel. Still, when Israel was fighting for its very life in 1948, Truman imposed a crippling arms embargo that put the nascent Jewish state at a disadvantage against Arabs forces that has no difficulty obtaining arms. In 1956 Suez war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower vigorously opposed Israel’s involvement and threatened to cut off all aid to Israel if PM David Ben Gurion did not withdraw from the conquered Sinai area. Ultimately, Ben Gurion gave in the pressure in exchange for US guarantees to prevent Egyptian belligerence in the future.
When it became clear in 1967 (Six Day war) that Israel-Arab war is imminent, President Lyndon B. Johnson told Israeli PM Levi Eshkol that US would not support Israel. True to his word, after Israel struck Egypt and its allies, the US imposed arms embargo. In 1975 President Gerald Ford announced his intention to reassess relation with Israel to coerce PM Golda Meir into signing an agreement with Israel that at that time was heavily tilted toward Egypt.  In June 1981 President Ronald Reagan had withheld promised warplanes to Israel to punish it for destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor and voted to condemn the action of Israeli PM Menachem Begin in the United Nations Security Council. Reagan also publicly criticized Begin in July 1982 bombing of the PLO headquarters in the Lebanese capital city of Beirut. And George W. Bush opposed loan guarantees because of Israeli settlement activity in West Bank and Gaza. He allowed Hamas terrorist organization to participate in Gaza election despite the objections of Israel.

The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is not an exceptional; it constitutes rather a fulsome case in point. Obama and Netanyahu dislike each other over significant strategic portfolios of peace process issues, Syria, Gaza and Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Iraq, Yemen, and above all Iran. The White House’s use of gutter language “chicken shit” to describe PM Netanyahu is a prolific evidence of the anti-Israel administration of Obama.

It is still doubtful over whether Obama is interfering in Israeli elections in seeking regime change. The organization V15 (Victory in 2015) sprang up with the sole purpose of bringing down Netanyahu’s premiership to an end. V15 had brought on board Jeremy Bird, national field director for Obama’s 2012 election campaign. And V15 is explicitly campaigning for Herzog-Livni’s Zionist Union in partnership with OneVoice, an American non-profit organization that has close connectivity with Obama. 
We have to keep in mind Obama’s background. The people he surrounded himself during his election campaign include Prof. Rashid Khalidi, who was once a mouthpiece for Hamas. Barack Obama’s father was a Muslim from Kenya (Africa) and his mother was an American Christian from Kansas (US). Obama adopted a Muslim middle name ‘Hussein’. Only after he became politically ambitious did he declare himself to be a Christian, yet he never replaced his Muslim name ‘Hussein’.

Obama is hurt because his plan of making ‘lekhaim’ in the White House with Yitzkhak Herzog after the Israeli election is over is not going to happen. He is a bit out of control because he could not bring Israel under his command to solve the long outstanding Middle East problem. Anyway, the fallout between Obama and Netanyahu will not jeopardise the US-Israel relations as at the end of the day the ties between the two countries will continue to be strong and vibrant. Israel is the closest allies of the United States in the entire Middle East, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which shares the same democratic values and definitely America’s truest friend and one and only trustworthy ally in the region.  

This time around is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Obama need to pass-over his self-ego and pride of being the most powerful President in the world. He should read the writing on the wall- Don’t behave like Pharaoh.

Barack Hussein Obama may pursue in his election slogan ‘Change we believe in’, but he should also know and believe in positive change. He should restore the Washington-Jerusalem relationship until the end of his second and last term in Oval office in January 2017. Otherwise, he will go down in history as the most anti- Israel President of the United States.

Khag kasher v’sameakh to all readers of this Magazine.

## The writer is a contributor of articles to the leading English newspaper ‘The Sangai Express’ and ‘Eimi Times’ in Manipur.   


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