Members of the Chabad community in the southern Indian city of Kochi on Tuesday
vehemently denied a report accusing them of being part of an Israeli covert
Rabbi Shneor Zalman and Yaffa Shenoi told The Jerusalem Post
that they had been stunned by a story in The Times of India in which unnamed
Indian security officials said they were Israeli secret agents who would soon be
deported from the country.
“I was invited here by the Jewish community of
Kochi with the full knowledge of local authorities,” said Zalman, a 27-year-old
rabbi from Jerusalem. “I have no idea how they got the impression I was part of
a Mossad operation.”
He said he and Shenoi ran an outreach center
catering to Jewish travelers in the popular tourist destination, as well as to
the city’s 50 remaining Jews. Kochi once had a much larger community whose
origins dated back to the 16th century.
He insisted that this was their
Shenoi speculated that the report might have been
related to an upcoming hearing on their visa status, but said she had been
unaware of claims that they were Israeli agents before the story
Earlier in the day, The Times of India quoted anonymous
security sources as saying the two had been under “close surveillance” by Indian
intelligence officers for a year, and had taken part in “suspicious activities,”
including hosting large groups of people at their house late at night. The
officials added that the pair also drew attention to themselves for paying more
than the average rent.
“A monthly rent of Rs 50,000 is disproportionately
high, even in Fort Kochi. This is one of the main factors that made us
suspicious,” the intelligence source was quoted as saying.
been in the country from March 3, 2010. When their visas expired on March 3 last
year, they went out and returned on April 1, 2011, on a new visa.”
newspaper also published private information about the two Israelis, including
their passport numbers.
By just after 4 p.m. local time, the story had
received 613 comments on The Times of India’s website, many of which were
anti-Semitic. One reader tied the report to the case of Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg, a Jewish couple executed by the US in the 1950s for spying on behalf
of the Soviet Union, as proof of the existence of an international Jewish
Followers of the Chabad movement run outreach centers in
dozens of countries around the world, including several in India. In 2008 Rabbi
Gavriel Herzberg, his wife, Rivka, and four Jewish guests at the center they ran
in Mumbai were killed by Islamic terrorists.