Israel and China are among the few countries remaining in the world which sell weapons to Burma’s military junta. Such arms are used in turn to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority. 600,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee their homeland due to military sweeps which torched scores of villages, and through rape, murder and pillaging by security forces.
Even U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley has demanded that the world embargo arms trade with Burma. Last month, the Trump administration made the first furtive steps toward considering the imposition of sanctions against Burma for this human rights tragedy. Yesterday, two members of Congress penned an op-ed in which they advocated legislation to that effect.
Though the Israel lobby loves to say there isn’t an ounce of daylight between Israel and U.S. in our Middle East policy, the Israeli defense ministry doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. In fact, a group of Israeli anti-militarist activists sued the ministry demanding that its staff be criminally charged for aiding and abetting war crimes there. They took their case to the Israeli Supreme Court, which made a ruling and then promptly slapped a gag order so that no Israeli media might report the result.
At a rally held by the activists after the ruling, one of the speakers revealed that the Court sided with the defense ministry and upheld the right to traffic in arms with Burma. Nevertheless, the ruling itself is under gag order and may not be published in Israel.
Simultaneously, the Jewish human rights NGO, Truah, published a statement signed by 300 U.S. rabbis decrying the arms sales and calling on Israel to stop immediately. Last week, several of these rabbis met with the deputy consul general in New York to make their case. This in turn, offered the Israeli government an opportunity to clarify its policy.
The consul, Amir Sagie, wasn’t having any of it. He laid down the Burmese government line, one echoed even by Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi:
Sagie charged that the current situation “started after Muslims attacked government positions in Myanmar” and that both sides in the conflict are “conducting war crimes.”
In fact, the Burmese military has been systematically assaulting the Muslim minority for years. By “current situation,” he refers to an attack by Rohingya militants on army positions which killed 12 soldiers. In the aftermath, the military fully mobilized to implement a “final solution” to the Rohingya problem.
To believe Sagie’s statement, you’d have to accept that a series of small attacks on military posts justified a massive mobilization of forces and the subsequent forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Burmese Muslims who’ve lived in their homeland for generations.
Despite the fact that Israeli media have documented, and the Burmese junta itself has confirmed, the sale of advanced weaponry to the junta, Sagie had the temerity to say this:
“…We deny totally any kind of relations or any connection to Israel with this tragedy. There is no direct or indirect connection with what is going on with the Rohingya people.”
He added that Israel “applies a policy of non-intervention in Myanmar’s domestic issues.”
Israeli Dvora patrol boats which monitor the results of the army attacks and prevent Rohingya from escaping them; along with Israeli drones permitting the army to track the results of its massacres from the sky, say Sagie is wrong. Dead-wrong.
Further, ethnic cleansing is not a “domestic issue.” In fact, it is an international issue involving war crimes which should and must be adjudicated by an international forum like the International Criminal Court. Coincidentally, Palestinian NGOs like Al Haq are preparing to bring Israel before the ICC.
The Israeli diplomat continued his media spin:
Sagie refused to give details about Israel’s arms trade with Myanmar, saying Israel “does not discuss publicly with our friends or our foes Israel’s military or defense relationships.” But he stressed that all weapons exports are “done with due diligence,” and exports take “into consideration human rights violations, including existing sanctions from the UN or international organizations.”
It is, of course, false that Israel doesn’t discuss publicly its military relationships with foreign countries. Most of them are public knowledge, as is Israel’s arms trafficking with the Burmese generals. In fact, Yossi Melman, the dean of Israeli security journalists, offered a detailed account (Hebrew) of the weapons sold in Maariv. Melman also reported that due to fear of U.S. displeasure (and perhaps the bad PR generated by the Truah rabbis), Israel was suspending its arms sales to Burma. However, the defense ministry made no public statement to this effect. Not to mention that the suspension will likely last long enough till the controversy dies down, at which point Israel will turn the spigot back on.
As for what considerations Israel uses in determining who it sells weapons to—the truth is, it will sell them to pretty much anyone with enough cash to buy them. It sells to the most dictatorial regimes on the planet. It even sells to both sides in multiple civil wars on different continents. The truth is that there are no ethical considerations governing Israel arms exports. That is why Israel is among the top six weapons traders in the world. Nearly 10% of Israeli GDP is tied up in the foreign arms market and 100,000 Israeli families earn their livelihood from it. Israel is not just a garrison state, it is an armory to the world.
In most democracies, one would look to the national legislature to influence such policies, especially if they violated the values of the country or were opposed by their citizens. Two Israeli MKs introduced legislation before two different sessions of the Knesset asking that Israeli arms exports be monitored and constrained by human rights considerations (Hebrew). The legislation never made it out of committee during either session. In one particular case, a senior Likud MK who once served as the head of the union for the Israeli arms industry, told the MK bill sponsor that he would exert every pressure he could bring to bear to sabotage it. And he did.
Another of the ironies of this tragic situation is that the MK sponsoring the bill was none other than radical settler activist, Yehuda Glick. He advocates the destruction of the Haram al-Sharif and its replacement with a Third Temple. He welcomes the prospect of a religious war between Israeli Jews and Muslims and believes this will enable Israel to finally and completely vanquish the Palestinians.
Glick’s fire-breathing hatred for local Muslims somehow doesn’t prevent him from pitying Muslims who are 10,000 miles away. In discussing his bill, he told a Maariv reporter he couldn’t bear the thought that a Rohingya woman would be killed by an Israeli Uzi. But somehow, he’s not bothered in the least that an Israeli soldier bearing the same model Uzi would kill a Palestinian woman with it. Ah the ironies of Israeli reality!
Returning to the meeting between American rabbis and the New York consul, Sagie told them:
Sagie suggested that the false connections made between the Burmese and Israeli governments are “blood libel.” Israel, he added, is routinely accused of every evil under the sun, so now it’s being accused in the Rohingyas’ slaughter as well. “You do not see us saying we’re supportive of the regime’s actions against the Rohingya – it’s the opposite,” he said.
In fact, the diplomat is implicitly accusing the rabbis themselves of employing a blood libel against Israel. Use of this term is profoundly disturbing to any Jew. In literal terms, it means the accuser is claiming, in effect, that Israel uses the blood of Christian children to bake Passover matzah.
Pro-Israel advocates throughout the world carelessly bandy about such loaded rhetoric because it tends to shut down further consideration or criticism of Israeli policy. It’s the equivalent of Godwin’s Law, except far worse, because the term has specific and horrible meanings in Jewish history. Not to mention that the notion that rabbis would be guilty of such heinous behavior takes Israeli diplomacy to the lowest level imaginable.
I contacted Rabbi Jill Jacobs, director of Truah, asking if her group had responded to the diplomat. She said it hadn’t. I asked her if they planned to, and she said they would. But as of publication of this story they hadn’t yet.
Limits of Liberal Zionism
The Haaretz story about the meeting also included this curious statement:
The rabbis said afterward that they requested the meeting out of love for Israel…
In other words, when confronted by an outrageous slur, the best they could offer in defense was “we couch our criticism of Israeli war crimes in the context of ‘love for Israel.’” This is the classic posture of liberal Zionists who continually allow themselves to be put on the defensive. They make apologies. They protest their love and devotion, as if that somehow will inoculate them from the smears Israeli government PR hacks level against them.
The Israel Lobby and its defenders are tough. They give no quarter. You cannot combat their rhetoric with temporizing and apologies. One must be forthright and respond to smears with vigorous, unapologetic defense.
This looks like a cross between “1984” & that old Apple Super Bowl ad. F%ucking scary! pic.twitter.com/GXn9mC6JNj
— Tikun Olam (@richards1052) November 13, 2017
One of the reasons the Jewish Diaspora has so little impact on Israel is precisely for this reason. These Jews accept their marginalized role. They ask for permission when they want something, as if they had to explain or justify themselves. When they are dismissed as Bibi Netanyahu did when he abandoned a carefully negotiated compromise permitting mixed gender prayer at the Western Wall, they meekly complain, but later fold.
This shocking image of Bibi Netanyahu addressing yesterday’s Jewish federation General Assembly is a case in point. Netanyahu broke with longstanding tradition and decided to skip the GA because he knew he’d be roundly booed the American Jewish leaders present. Instead, what does he do? In order to remind them of who’s boss he produces this Nuremberg like video-spectacle in which he looms above the crowd in an image that is a cross between Big Brother addressing his followers in 1984 and the famous Apple Super Bowl ad (also meant to mimic 1984).
In combatting Israeli injustice, one must never apologize, never back down. It is right and fitting that Israel face criticism from both Jews and non-Jews when it violates international law. There should be nothing to apologize for.