On October 7, Yoel Lhanghal z”l a new Bnei Menashe immigrant was stabbed to death after being called “CHINA CHINA” and ridiculed while he was at a birthday party in Kiryat Shmona. A similar assault took place in Tiberia in March 2020 where a fellow Bnei Menashe was beaten by a group of unknown following the rise of Covid-19 after being yelled at “CORONA CORONA” because he looks Chinese.
Racial discrimination towards the community is not a recent phenomenon. From casual street teasing to being labeled as coming from some sort of primitive society or being made to feel inferior. Most Bnei Menashe including children have experienced such seemingly “innocuous” words and bigoted actions. Although, these behaviours don’t always lead to an outburst of emotions, they undoubtedly make one feel inferior.
These acts of racism and behaviours don’t always meet the public eye as they are often ignored and downplayed which in no way means there aren’t any. Racism does exist.
Racism is not about how you look, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look. — Robin D.G. Kelly, Historian
The people of Bnei Menashe hails from the North Eastern region of India, people from this region have similar physical features and shares resembling cultures and tradition to many other Asian countries including China, Thailand and Philippines, therefore it can be confusing. However, note that it is not the fact of being mistaken for Chinese or Thai that is disturbing, but if you assume someone’s race and shout at them in public, it is a display of power, it is an act of you showing your dominance and excluding that person from the Israeli society at large and further dismissing their identities and origins which in all forms is evil.
Today, more than 4,000 Bnei Menashe live across Israel and the invisibility of their presence as a part of the Israeli society is still very much prevalent. This lack of visibility and awareness and the lack of relevant curriculum in regards to the Bnei Menashe and its Jewish roots provokes racist behaviours and attacks.
A tragedy like Yoel’s must act as a catalyst for change. We should start examining our surroundings and work toward significant social changes. We experienced the costs of our ignorance and lack of information. We must be more aware than ever of the significance of respecting one another’s traditions and being mindful of the various races that coexist with us. In the words of Audrey Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences.”