Government set to finalize Bnei Menashe aliya

Evangelical Christian groups gear up to support immigration of Indian community who claim descent from one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Bnei Menashe 311 (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
Bnei Menashe 311
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
The government is expected to give final approval in the next few weeks to bring to Israel more than 7,200 remaining members of an Indian community who claim descent from one of the lost tribes of Israel.
The decision to allow the last members of the Bnei Menashe to immigrate to Israel is being greeted with excitement by local Evangelical Christian groups, who view it as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and who have pledged financial support for the move.
More than 1,700 members of Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel over the last decade, but their aliya was subsequently halted in 2007 by the government of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, even though the Israeli Chief Rabbinate had previously recognized the community as “descendants of Israel.”
Three months ago, the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, decided in principle to bring to the Jewish state the remaining 7,232 members of the northeastern Indian community.
The Bnei Menashe, Hebrew for Sons of Menashe, claim descent from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.
Their ancestors are believed to have wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.
“I am very optimistic that within the next few weeks we will at last have a historic breakthrough which will allow the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe to return to Zion,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization which locates and identifies long-lost Jewish communities.
He added that the aliya was likely to be spread out over the next three to five years.
Israel’s “Law of Return” grants Jews or descendants of Jews automatic citizenship and financial assistance.
Freund said that his organization was likely to cover most if not all of the more than $20 million estimated costs of transporting the immigrants to Israel from India, and their initial period upon arrival. The government would cover most of their basic absorption costs.
At the same time, the head of the most prominent Evangelical Christian organization in Israel has pledged to help cover some of the costs of the immigration.
“We are absolutely dedicated to supporting this initiative and helping the government of Israel in this venture,” said Juergen Buehler, executive director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
“Many people in our constituents around the world will be very excited to help out with this great initiative.”
The Evangelical leader said that their target is to be able to finance one flight of immigrants to Israel at the cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars.
“We believe we will be able to make a very significant contribution to this endeavor,” he said.
The International Christian Embassy plans to begin soliciting funds for the immigration at its annual Feast of the Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem next month, assuming the final government approval is taken by then.
The event, which is expected to attract more than 5,000 Evangelicals from around the world, is the single largest tourism event in Jerusalem each year.
The Evangelical organization has a long record of assisting in Jewish immigration to Israel over the years in keeping with their fundamental belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was foretold in the Scriptures and heralds the return of the Messiah.