The murder of a young Bnei Menashe immigrant

For a Jewish teenager in Israel to beat, kick and stab a fellow Jew to death because his facial features are viewed as being “different”? How is such a thing even possible?

 JEWISH HISTORY is unfortunately rife with examples of intra-Jewish hatred and discrimination. (photo credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash)
JEWISH HISTORY is unfortunately rife with examples of intra-Jewish hatred and discrimination.
(photo credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash)

Two weeks have passed since a young new immigrant was murdered in Kiryat Shmona by an Israeli teen, but the shock and pain have yet to diminish.

Yoel Lhunghal was an 18-year-old yeshiva student who made aliyah last year with his family from India. He was a member of Bnei Menashe, a community that has longed for Zion and yearned to return to its soil for more than 2,700 years.

Moving to Israel was a dream that Yoel and his family had tenderly and carefully nourished. Indeed, Yoel aspired to learn Torah and then serve in the IDF as a combat soldier in the paratroopers – not out of a sense of youthful machismo but because he loved the Land of Israel and wanted to defend it and the Jewish people.

But on October 6, the unthinkable occurred. Barely 24 hours after the end of Yom Kippur, Yoel’s life was viciously and cruelly snuffed out when he was beaten and slashed to death after a scuffle broke out at a birthday party.

While the police claim there is no evidence of a racial motive behind the attack, those close to Yoel’s family believe otherwise.

 Israel Police officer in a police car (credit: FLASH90) Israel Police officer in a police car (credit: FLASH90)

His grieving father, Gideon, told Ynet, “Yoel is a victim of racism… the racism directed against us is because we look different. They [the perpetrators] harbored a great deal of hate because Yoel did not know Hebrew, and he looked different.”

“Yoel is a victim of racism… the racism directed against us is because we look different. They [the perpetrators] harbored a great deal of hate because Yoel did not know Hebrew, and he looked different.”

Gideon Lhungal

Yoel’s cousin Shimon Haokip echoed those sentiments, saying, “This is the first murder of a Bnei Menashe in Israel because of racism. There were already instances of beatings and violence against us because of the way we look and due to racism, so I am asking all Israelis to respect us.”

This is simply heartbreaking.

OVER THE past few decades, we have seen countless headlines about Israelis who were murdered by knife-wielding, gun-toting or suicidal bomb-laden Palestinian terrorists.

But for a Jewish teenager in Israel to beat, kick and stab a fellow Jew to death because his facial features are viewed as being “different”? How is such a thing even possible?

That is precisely what Yoel’s parents felt, with his father stating, “We did not believe that a Jew could murder a fellow Jew; we never thought such a thing could occur.”

Sadly, this is not the first serious assault with racial overtones directed against a Bnei Menashe immigrant.

On March 14, 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak, Am-Shalem Singson and some friends were set upon by two hooligans in Tiberias, who began cursing at them and shouting, “Corona! Chinese!” because of their physical and ethnic features. They pummeled Am-Shalem before kicking him repeatedly in the chest once he fell to the ground, which necessitated his hospitalization.

It would be easy to dismiss these incidents as the handiwork of a few misguided or troubled youths. Easy, but wrong.

Jewish history is unfortunately rife with examples of intra-Jewish hatred and discrimination, which often had dire consequences, even back in biblical times.

The Book of Judges (chapters 19 to 21) describes how the rape of a concubine who belonged to a Levite resulted in a horrific battle at Givah, where the tribe of Benjamin was virtually wiped out by their brethren.

Centuries later, after the death of King Solomon and the split between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, Ahaz, King of Judah, refused to join with the 10 tribes of Israel to wage war against the Assyrians (see II Kings 16), which resulted in a national calamity.

Such examples are not confined to the distant past, as intra-Jewish rivalries have continued to haunt us even in the modern era.

In the 19th century, for example, when large numbers of Eastern European Jews began immigrating to Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, many local Jews were concerned this would affect their ability to assimilate into the larger society. Consequently, they looked down on their Yiddish-speaking brethren, discriminated against them and disparagingly referred to them as “Ostjuden,” or “Eastern Jews.”

Likewise, the reborn Jewish communities in the Land of Israel at the time were also hit by internal division.

As a July 7, 1880, article in Hamagid, the first modern Hebrew-language newspaper, ruefully noted, “In Jerusalem, the city of our forefathers, the place where the unity of Israel should be blossoming, we find two congregations of Sephardim and Ashkenazim, their children do not marry each other and do not mix with each other.”

Even today, in modern Israel, you will regularly hear jokes, insults and insinuations hurled at Jews of a variety of backgrounds, be they Moroccan, Georgian or Iraqi.

This is something that should set off alarm bells for us all because the act of differentiating among Jews due to their ethnic background is a surefire way to undermine the fabric of Israeli society.

It is so obvious that it should not have to be said, but apparently it does: Jews come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Live with it. 

Perhaps, instead of looking upon Jews who are different with disdain or suspicion, we would be best to adopt what Ariel Burger, in his book Witness, quotes the late Elie Wiesel as having said: “It is the otherness of the other that fascinates me… What can I learn from him? What does he see that I do not, cannot?”

Generally speaking, calls to counter racism and stamp out discrimination usually consist of little more than platitudes. But what is needed most is practical education. Every Israeli school child should be taught about the Jewish people’s unique nature and appreciate and value each of its multi-varied components, be they Bnei Menashe, Russian, Ethiopian or American.

Ignorance of “the other” is a fertile breeding ground for mistrust and hatred. It is a swamp that must be drained, starting in the schools. 

Yoel Lhunghal, a young Bnei Menashe immigrant, died before he truly had a chance to live. I pray that God will give strength to his loving parents, Batsheva and Gideon, and his younger siblings, and that they will know no further sorrow.

Our task now is to ensure not only that Yoel’s death has meaning and brings about change, but that it proves to be the last of its kind. 

The writer served as deputy communications director under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Likud leader’s first term of office.