Israeli Lawmakers Unite to Fight Arms Exports to Countries That Violate Human Rights

Bipartisan Knesset effort hopes to bar weapon sales by Israeli arms producers to nations implicated in serious violations.

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Israeli weapons on display at an international exhibition.Credit: Rami Shllush

Knesset members from both sides of the political divide are set to present ministers with a bill Sunday that would prohibit the export of Israeli arms to countries with egregious human-rights records.

The draft law was submitted by MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) and Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi). And in a rare display of cross-aisle support, opposition lawmakers including MKs Tamar Zandberg and Ilan Gilon (both Meretz), Dov Khenin (Joint List), and Yael German, Meir Cohen and Elazar Stern (all Yesh Atid) also signed on as sponsors, as did Ariel’s party colleague, MK Moti Yogev.

“This bill is of ethical and public importance because we have a duty to increase the supervision of defense exports so as to prevent the misuse of Israeli arms,” Ariel wrote in a message to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

He added that the state should take moral factors into consideration, in addition to economic and political ones. Identical draft laws proposed in the previous government failed to win the support of the cabinet.

The preamble to the bill states that as of the end of 2013, the Defense Ministry had issued 400,000 arms export and marketing licenses to 130 states and other entities.

“According to the United Nations, over the years Israel has exported defense equipment to states in which grave human-rights violations were being committed at the time. For example, according to UN records, Israeli defense exports to Chad took place in 2008 during a vicious civil war. In the same year, there were defense exports to Rwanda, where, according to the U.S. State Department, that country’s military committed serious human-rights violations. Rwanda was involved militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including arming rebel militias – some of which used child soldiers. The UN records also highlight Israeli defense exports to Kenya in 2011, when, according to the State Department, that country’s security forces were involved in torture, rape and extrajudicial killings.”

The bill would limit defense exports to states in which the Foreign Ministry has clear information that the military forces of those countries have committed severe human-rights abuses. The draft law stipulates criteria for this information, including a requirement that the information come from private individuals and organizations. The draft law is based on similar legislation in the United States.