Israel and Myanmar signed a cooperation agreement in the field of education on Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely tweeted the news of the signing of the agreement on her official Twitter account on Monday with the headline: “Education agreement with Myanmar, continuing cooperation with our friends around the world.”
Under the new agreement, which Haaretz has obtained, the two countries will “cooperate to develop programs for the teaching of the Holocaust and its lessons of the negative consequences of intolerance, racism, Anti-Semitism and xenophobia as a part of the school curriculum in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”
The two countries will encourage the development of other joint projects in the field of education , including encounters between educators and young people from both countries. Under the accord, which is considered standard and resembles those signed with other nations, both countries will act to encourage contacts and cooperation between academic institutions, schools and even preschools – as well as participation in conferences and training courses, educational and professional study tours.
In a somewhat controversial move, the agreement allows the parties to “through their competent authorities, endeavor to mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state and, where needed, introduce corrections to these textbooks.” A joint committee will be established to implement the agreement and will meet every three years.
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In addition, both parties will share knowledge in the field of education and encourage the development of an Israeli and Jewish studies programs in Myanmar and a Myanmar studies program in Israel, including Hebrew and Myanmar language teaching respectively.
The almost 50 years of rule by the military dictatorship in Myanmar, historically known as Burma, ostensibly ended in 2011. In the 2015 election, that regime was replaced by the party of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. But in recent years the United Nations has accused the country of committing ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya Muslim minority and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya survivors are still considered to be refugees.
The attacks by Myanmar’s security forces on the Rohingya have been described as an example of “textbook ethnic cleansing” by UN groups. Human rights organizations reported in August 2017 that the army conducted mass executions without trial of Rohingya, along with sexual violence against the group and burned down villages. Some 400,000 Rohingya refugees fled to neighboring Bangladesh and many others are trapped along the border between the two countries. The refugees have testified about acts of systematic murder and rape by the Myanmar military, which the government denies.
Over the years, relations between Israel and Myanmar have included military ties, which continued even during the period of the European Union’s arms embargo on Myanmar as well as U.S. sanctions againstthe sale of weapons to the country. Some of the sanctions based on human rights violations were lifted in recent years after the end of the military dictatorship, but the ban on the sale of weapons to the country remained in place. In October 2017, Haaretz reported that Israel sold advanced weaponry to Myanmar even during the period it was accused of conducting ethnic cleansing.
In September 2017, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on a petition against Israel’s weapons sales to Myanmar. However, the court decision must remain secret because the judges hearing the case – Supreme Court justices Yoram Danziger, Anat Baron and David Mintz – issued a gag order on it at the request of the state. Since then, Israel says it has stopped selling weapons to Myanmar and there have been no reports of any such sales by Israel or any military exercises with Myanmar.
Diplomatic relations with Myanmar have not changed, despite the halt in weapons sales. Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said in response to questions concerning the education agreement that Israel has diplomatic relations with Myanmar, as it does with many other countries around the world. “These relations are expressed in a wide range of areas including culture, agriculture and education. Israel does not sell weapons to Myanmar. We should applaud the signing of the agreement with this nation in the field of education,” said Nahshon.
Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz that the “picture is complicated and not one-dimensional the way [people] are trying to present it sometimes.” The cooperation with Myanmar in areas that are not related to the sale of weapons is important to Israel because the country has changed the way it votes in international forums and now tends to support Israel, said the officials.
Recently, an official representative of Myanmar attended a celebratory reception held by the Foreign Ministry in honor of the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The cooperation in the field of education, and especially in the instruction of Holocaust studies, is a positive step that promotes universal values, said Foreign Ministry officials. Similar actions have been taken in the past in Myanmar, including commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the country’s higher education system.