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'Lost tribe of Israel' could help BJP in election

Mizo Jews welcome Indian PM Narendra Modi's friendship with Israel and the US

ucanews.com reporter, Aizawl

ucanews.com reporter, Aizawl

Updated: November 08, 2018 03:37 AM GMT
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'Lost tribe of Israel' could help BJP in election

BJP chief Amit Shah attends a party program in Aizawl, capital of Mizoram state, during electioneering on Oct. 17. The party is banking on Christian votes to make its presence felt in the Christian-majority state. (Photo by IANS)

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's friendly approach to Israel could be an electoral help to his pro-Hindu party in the Christian-majority Mizoram state where some people claim to be descendants of a lost tribe of Israel.

Former Pentecostal pastor H. Lalruata, who recently joined Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said ethnic Mizo people were happy to see Modi moving away from the foreign policy of previous governments that distanced India from the U.S. and Israel.

Lalruata, who is a BJP candidate for the Nov. 28 state election, told ucanews.com that he joined the BJP appreciating Modi's "close friendship with the U.S. and Israel and his strong bond" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is first time that he has justified his support for the BJP by linking it with the sentiments of Mizo Jews, who claim to be Bnei Menashe (sons of Menasseh) or descendants of a lost tribe of Israel.

Christian churches have not responded to the Protestant leader's support for the BJP, which backs the idea of making India a Hindu-only nation and has been widely criticized for supporting Hindu fanatic violence against minority Christians and Muslims.

However, Mizo people who follow Judaism seem to endorse Lalruata's support for the BJP based on Modi's reported closeness to Israel and Netanyahu.

In July 2017, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel, 25 years after bilateral ties between India and Israel were established in 1992. Prior to that, Indian Christians could not go to Israel, even with diplomatic passports.

In January, Netanyahu became the second Israeli prime minister to visit India.

"We believe Prime Minister Modi is doing a good job by improving ties with Israel. It is good for Christians and Mizo Jews like me," said 35-year-old Mary Winchester Zoluti.

Mizoram has a noticeable Jewish presence, with two synagogues in state capital Aizawl and at least seven others in smaller townships and hamlets. Mizo Jews are also seen in neighboring Manipur.

The two states together have about 10,000 people claiming Jewish ancestry, while some 3,000 have migrated to Israel.

Ethnic Mizos were animist until Christian missionaries came to the area in the early 19th century and the Jewish claims were made only later. In April 2005, Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, accepted them as part of a lost tribe and allowed migration to Israel after formal conversion.

The BJP is counting on the votes of Christians, who form 87 percent of the state's 1.1 million people, to establish a foothold in the state. BJP leaders said Christians in the region were also happy with Modi's friendship with Israel.

They point to Thomas Ngullie, a former minister in Christian-dominated Nagaland state, lauding Modi's 2017 visit to Israel. Ngullie believes improved India-Israel relations bode well for Christians.

Khyamo Lotha, a former Naga parliamentarian, echoed Ngullie's comments by acknowledging Jerusalem as a place of Christian pilgrimage. Lotha claims he was the first to stress the need for improved India-Israel relations as far back as 1991.

Despite some Christians and Jews being happy with the BJP and Modi, a sarcastic saying in the state is that Mizoram rocks are too hard for the lotus — the party symbol of the BJP — to bloom. 

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