Stop Arms Sales to Despots, Orthodox Group Urges Israeli Lawmakers

The organization urges future government coalition partners to issue ultimatum: Stop sale of arms or count us out

FILE Photo: A man examines an assault rifle manufactured by Israel Weapons Industries in New Delhi, India, April 1, 2012.
Mustafa Quraishi / AP

An organization of progressive-minded Orthodox rabbis and educators is urging all political parties considering joining the new Israeli government to obtain a commitment, during their coalition negotiations, that legislation will be passed prohibiting Israeli arms sales to rogue regimes.

In a statement issued on Monday, Beit Hillel wrote: “As the nation that brought to the world the message of freedom, and the grand idea that all human beings were created in the image of God, and as a nation that suffered more than any other from the world’s silence when atrocities were committed against it, we must not whisper at a time like this. We urge you, our elected officials, not to ignore this Jewish, moral and humane demand.”

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Founded about six years ago, Beit Hillel is an organization of close to 150 rabbis and educators – both men and women – committed to a more liberal form of Orthodoxy. It has been particularly active in promoting an enhanced role for women in religious rituals.

The driving force behind the initiative is Yehuda Gilad, the rabbi of Lavi, a religious kibbutz in northern Israel, and a member of the board of Beit Hillel. A former Knesset member, Gilad also serves as head of Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa.

Speaking with Haaretz, he said: “Arms sales have long been a taboo subject, and I hesitate to say this, but I fear it may be because there are business interests involved. If that is the reason for the silence, it is awful. From a Jewish, halakhic and moral perspective, selling weapons to those who abuse human rights is a crime.”

On April 30, the day the incoming Knesset is scheduled to be sworn in, activists in the movement aimed at banning Israeli weapon sales to human rights violators will hold a demonstration outside.

In the last Knesset, an attempt to pass legislation that would prohibit such sales failed for logistic reasons. Before the bill came up for discussion in the ministerial committee for legislation, the Knesset was disbanded. Sponsored by MK Yehiel Bar (Labor), the bill had won the support of lawmakers on both the left and right.

A year and a half ago, 55 Israeli rabbis representing various denominations signed a petition calling on Israeli leaders to end arms sales to Myanmar. It followed allegations that the country was using weapons sold by Israel to commit atrocities against the Rohingya, the country’s Muslim minority.