A group of more than 40 human rights activists have filed a petition with the High Court of Justice, demanding the cessation of Israeli arms exports to Ukraine.
They argue that these weapons serve forces that openly espouse a neo-Nazi ideology and cite evidence that the right-wing Azov militia, whose members are part of Ukraine’s armed forces, and are supported by the country’s ministry of internal affairs, is using these weapons.
An earlier appeal to the Defense Ministry was met with no response.
The ministry’s considerations in granting export licenses for armaments are not disclosed to the public, but it appears that the appearance of Israeli weapons in the hands of avowed neo-Nazis should be a consideration used in opposing the granting of such a license.
Nevertheless, this is not the first time in which the defense establishment is arming forces that embrace a national socialist ideology.
In the past, Israel has armed anti-Semitic regimes, such as the generals’ regime in Argentina, which murdered thousands of Jews in camps while its soldiers stood in watchtowers guarding the abducted prisoners with their Uzi submachine guns.
According to a freedom of information petition to Israel's defense ministry from last January (Hebrew: read in full here), Israel also armed Bolivia's military regimes, knowing that Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie was part of the regime. Legal documents used to convict the head of the junta also showed that Barbie's death squads used Israeli Uzis.
In the case of Ukraine forces using Israeli weapons are openly stating their support for racist and anti-Semitic ideas, in various publications.
The Azov militia was established in Ukraine following the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. The militia’s emblems are well-known national socialist ones. Its members use the Nazi salute and carry swastikas and SS insignias.
Moreover, some of them openly admit they have neo-Nazi sentiments and that they are Holocaust deniers. One militia member said in an interview that he was fighting Russia since Putin was a Jew. An Azov sergeant said that he was a national socialist, although he was not in favor of genocide, and as long as minorities in Ukraine did not demand special rights he would have no problem with them.
The militia’s founder, Andriy Biletsky, who is now a member of Ukraine’s parliament, formerly headed a neo-Nazi group called Patriot of Ukraine, now defunct. Its members comprise the founding core of Azov.
“Our nation’s historic mission at this critical juncture is to lead the final march of the white race towards its survival” Biletsky has said. “This is a march against sub-humans who are led by the Semite race.” According to reports by human rights groups militia members are suspected of war crimes, torture and sexual violence.
In tandem with the rising power of Azov, which has more than 3,000 members, there is a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks against Ukraine’s minorities. Neo-Nazi groups have attacked Jews and Jewish memorial sites across Ukraine, as well as journalists, Roma and members of the LGBT community.
One member of parliament declared, in response to a question about the country’s “Jewish problem”, that “in the government there is non-Ukrainian bloodthis must be addressed.” Last May right-wing groups marched through Odessa, their leaders claiming that the city belongs to Ukrainians, not Jews, and that they would get rid of the latter.
All this is happening as the Ukrainian administration is trying to deny the country’s role in the Holocaust, just as is happening in Poland (now with the support of the Netanyahu government).
These attempts include rewriting the history of World War II and the glorification of Ukraine’s soldiers, using legislation and various publications, as well as concocting stories about Jews who were allies of national Ukrainian forces during the war, whereas in fact Jews had to hide their identity.
In 2015, the Holocaust Museum in Washington denounced Ukrainian legislation which was intended to prevent criticism of collaboration with the Nazis.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the World Jewish Congress condemned the decision to name central boulevards in Kiev after Nazi collaborators. If that weren’t enough, last April there was a march honoring Ukrainian Waffen SS units which massacred thousands of Jews during World War II. In June, Ukraine’s chief military prosecutor Anatoli Matios said in an interview that Jews want “to drown Slavs in blood.”
Since the spring of 2015 members of the Azov militia have been part of the regular security forces in Ukraine, a part of the National Guard which is under the country’s ministry of internal affairs. The militia encourages members and supporters to enlist in the army. However, the militia maintains itself as a separate organization.
In December of 2016 Ukraine’s internal affairs minister Arsen Avakov, considered Azov’s patron and a candidate for prime minister, met a Knesset delegation headed by MK David Amsalem, on an official visit to Ukraine.
Avakov has also met Arye Dery, the minister of interior. Avakov appointed Vadym Troyan, a senior Azov commander, as the head of Kiev’s police force. Another militia founder was given a different senior police post. These ties were formed when Avakov was a regional governor, cooperating with the neo-Nazi forces of the Patriot of Ukraine, the forerunner of Azov.
Last January the U.S. Congress prohibited any support for the Ukrainian militia. Since Israel’s defense ministry does not divulge any information on arms exports, particularly not to Ukraine, for fear of Russian wrath, it’s difficult to assess the extent of the ties with Kiev, but these are certainly in place.
The petition, submitted by attorney Itay Mack, contains abundant evidence showing the arming of the Ukrainian regime and its Azov forces.
Thus, for example, Ukrainian soldiers have been seen carrying Israeli-made Tavor rifles in military parades in Kiev. In February 2016 it was revealed that Elbit Systems will be part of a group investing in Ukraine’s defense establishment.
In April 2016 the chief of Ukraine’s air force met a representative of an Israeli defense company to discuss the upgrading of communications systems in that country’s warplanes and helicopters. The Ukrainian company “Fort” got Israel’s approval for making Tavor, Negev and Galil rifles.
In the city of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine there is a military training school. Its website indicates that training there is provided former IDF officers and that its instructors were trained by Israelis.
The website has a photo of shooting practice with a Tavor rifle. It notes that the school trains units of the National Guard, whose members include Azov militiamen.
In May 2017 Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman visited Israel and met with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to discuss the arming of Ukraine’s military forces.
In December of that year a man claiming to be a former IDF officer was interviewed by Ukrainian media, saying that he had taken part in battles in eastern Ukraine, where he was instructing soldiers. The Azov website also shows militia members using Tavor rifles.
All of this is unambiguous proof that Israel is exporting weapons to Ukraine, knowing that they reach right-wing militias, some members of which are avowed neo-Nazis who enjoy the support of the authorities.
The ministry of defense, as is its wont, refuses to address this issue, responding only in generalities without detailing the considerations underlying its decisions approving arms exports. It seems that in this case the public deserves a more detailed response, as do Ukrainian Jews the Israeli government supposedly claims to protect.
Even if these weapons are currently directed at Russians, one should take into account the reasonable possibility that in the future they will be used to achieve other goals, perhaps aimed at minority groups in the country. It will then be too late to halt the collaboration of the Israeli establishment with the murder of Jews and others. This will be one more chapter in the dismal history of using Israeli firearms in acts such as these.