IN A first, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will on Thursday interact with 25-30 leaders of the Jewish community in Mumbai to address their grievances and issues. Amongst issues likely to be put forth will be concerns about getting minority status for Jews across India and challenges in getting visas. In 2016, Maharashtra became the second Indian state to grant the minority status to the Jews. Currently, only three states have given minority status to the community.
“Since 2015, we have been demanding minority status in entire country to avail certain benefits that every minority community receives,” said Ezra Moses, secretary of the Thane synagogue. From 26,512 Jews in 1951, the Jewish population has dwindled to 4,650 as per the 2001 census. Mumbai and its suburbs, with about 3,000 Jews, has the maximum concentration of Jews in India.
The community claims that a small number of Jews in Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Gujarat, Goa and Vijaywada also require minority status.
The community leaders will also discuss provision of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) visa to Indian Jews who finish their three-year military training in Israel and wish to return home in India. The visa-free travel, to make transit between the two countries smoother, was also announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Israel in July 2017. Modi promised facilitation of OCI for those Indian Jews who served in Israeli defence forces.
“Several community members said that they also face difficulty with Israel consulate in getting visa to Israel. We will discuss that problem as well,” said Solomon Sopher, head of the Jacob Sassoon Trust and in-charge of three synagogues in Mumbai and Pune.
While selected leaders will be allowed to meet the PM, community members said many more were enthusiastic about the event. A formal request was made to invite PM Netanyahu to visit one of city’s synagogues where more community members could gather.
“The community only wants to welcome the PM here. Since it’s his first visit there is excitement and happiness to meet him,” said Sopher. In India, there are three sects of Jews — Bene Israeli, Baghdadi Jews and Cochin Jews. A tribal Manipuri Jews population was also discovered post independence. There are less than 100 Baghdadi and Cochin Jews left now.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, Muslim organisations held a protest against Netanyahu’s Mumbai trip. “Several Muslim children have died in Jerusalem. They (Israel) are a threat to Muslims across the world. Our protest is against India forging such ties with Israel,” said Mohammed Rizvi, general secretary of the Raza Academy.
Jacob Sassoon’s in-charge Sopher, however, said the community has no problems with any religion in India. “Both our trust schools have 98 per cent Muslim students. We live in close harmony with Muslims,” he said, adding that he did not know why certain groups were opposing Netanyahu’s visit.