"This is an immoral decision, motivated by ignorance and based on post-Zionist and racist considerations." So says Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization working to bring long-lost Jews home to Israel from India.
He was referring to a government decision of last week that appears to be tailor-made to preventing the Bnei Menashe tribe from moving to Israel. The government ruled that the Interior Minister could issue entry permits to groups of people for the purpose of conversion and citizenship only with full Cabinet approval.
Until now, the Interior Minister - currently Meir Sheetrit of Kadima - was able to issue such permits on his own authorization. It appears, however, that Sheetrit, who initiated the new ruling, no longer wishes to issue such permits, and has therefore transferred the onus to the full Cabinet. It can be assumed that the government will not rush to deal with such matters. Therefore, groups of ten or more Bnei Menashe who wish to revive their long-lost Jewishness and immigrate to Israel will, for all intents and purposes, no longer be able to do so.
Some 1,200 Bnei Menashe - members of Indian tribes who are widely believed to have descended from Jews exiled from the Holy Land 2,500 years ago - are now full-fledged Jews in Israel, and another 7,000 of their family members and neighbors are waiting in India to join them.
"The Chief Rabbinate is willing to convert them," Freund told Arutz-7, "but the government is essentially intervening and saying it does not wish to allow these people to be candidates for conversion. This is an unconscionable act, and we will fight in the Knesset, in the public arena and wherever else necessary to make sure it is rescinded."
"Requiring full cabinet approval every time a group of 100 or 200 people wish to move here and undergo conversion," writes Freund, "is a recipe for bureaucratic inertia, as there is little chance of getting such an item onto the busy agenda of the entire government. Hence, by creating a virtually insurmountable obstacle to approval, [Sheetrit] hopes to bury the issue once and for all."
Conversion in India, which was once the practice under the auspices of Israel's Chief Rabbinate, is no longer an option, in accordance with a new decision by the Indian government.
"Why, you might be wondering, would Sheetrit and his cabinet colleagues do such a thing?" Freund writes. "The answer is really quite simple. It is post-Zionism of the ugliest sort, tinged by prejudice and sheer ignorance."
Freund told Arutz-7 that the decision could have other repercussions as well. "Let's say there is a non-Jewish family - two parents and eight children - living abroad that has become close to a Jewish community and wishes to convert to Judaism and move to Israel," he said. "With this decision, the family would be able to do so only if the entire Israeli Cabinet votes to allow it... It's quite obvious that the intention is to create a bureaucratic obstacle that cannot be overcome."
Tzvi Khaute, of Kiryat Arba, a Bnei Menashe member who immigrated to Israel in 2000, has parents and five siblings anxiously awaiting to join him here. "But because of this purely racist decision," he now says, "they may have to wait years - or even more."
Khaute, 33, is married, and two of his three children were born here. Many of his friends are soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces - yet their families may now not be able to join them here for years to come.
"When I came to Israel," Tzvi said, "there was a quota of only 24 Bnei Menashe - out of more than 7,000! - who were allowed to come that year. With G-d's help, my family was able to choose one representative. They chose me, hoping that I would prepare the ground for them to come and join me at a later date. I am very happy that I was able to come here and reconnect to our people, and our Torah, here in the Holy Land - but it is always tinged with sadness in that my family, and thousands of others, are not able to be here as well."