Opinion |

Top Diplomat's Cheshire Cat Smile Symbolizes Israel’s Disgraceful Sympathy for Myanmar

The regime that carries out ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya minority is now part of Israel’s natural habitat

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.Credit: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely's Twitter accout
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In 2017, the Myanmar army carried out a series of widespread attacks, including wanton murder, rape and pillage, which sparked the flight of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, where they live today in sub-human conditions. Human rights organizations, the European Union and even the Trump administration defined the campaign against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing. Western countries, including the United States, imposed a total arms embargo as well as individual sanctions on army commanders. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently decided to revoke a prize named after Elie Wiesel given to Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s chief minister, for failing to speak out against her country’s crimes against humanity.

This is the background to the outburst of revulsion that greeted Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s tweet on Monday, in which she announced the signing of a new education agreement with Myanmar. “We continue our cooperation with friends throughout the world”; she tweeted, attaching a photo of the signing ceremony, in which she is seen sporting a winning smile on her face. Responding to the ensuing protests, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson noted that Israel maintains diplomatic relations with Myanmar “like the other countries in the world.”

Israel does not sell weapons to Myanmar, he added, using the present tense, possibly as a result of a High Court of Justice judgment handed down last year, in response to a petition against the arms sales, which remains sealed. There is no doubt, however, that Israel continued to supply the Myanmar army with weapons after the ethnic cleansing was already underway. In mid-2017, the Myanmar navy posted photos of its new, Israeli made Super Dvora-class patrol boats. In December, the Myanmar ambassador in Tel Aviv told the press that his country had signed an agreement on security collaboration with Israel, for which he was immediately summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a reprimand.

Tzipi Hotovely's tweet.

Israel has a long and shameful history of selling arms to countries with repressive regimes. In some cases, such as Guatemala, Rwanda and apartheid South Africa, these weapons were used to oppress minorities and even carry out genocide. In this regard, Myanmar is no exception. But unlike most countries, Israel also does its best to refrain from publicly condemning the Myanmar army, because “both sides are perpetrating war crimes,” as Israel’s Deputy Consul General in New York reportedly told protesting U.S. rabbis in December.

Israel’s reticence is understandable: After all, the ethnocentric Myanmar regime refused to grant its small Muslim minority citizenship and has maintained a long-standing policy of oppression and discrimination against the Rohingya. Israel’s sympathy for the Myanmar regime is clearly evident in Wikipedia: Whereas the English entry on the Rohingya contains a detailed account of their history and persecution, the Hebrew version makes do with a description of the purported ties of some Rohingya groups to radical Islamic terrorists.

Myanmar, and this will also sound familiar, routinely rejects the “lies” spread by the United Nations and human rights NGO’s. Two reporters for the Reuters news agency were arrested last December after they tried to report on the killing of 10 Rohingya men by the Myanmar army. They could be facing long prison terms.

It’s no coincidence that Myanmar was one of the 22 countries, most with despotic or authoritarian regimes, that attended the inauguration ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem earlier this month. This is our new, natural habitat. When Israel prefers the ethnocentric and vaguely anti-Semitic Hungarian regime over enlightened Western European countries, when it forges an unholy alliance with messianic U.S. evangelicals at the expense of its ties with liberal American Jews, Hotovely’s dazzling smile is a telltale sign of where the wind is blowing and can’t be obfuscated by any official clarification. Like the Cheshire cat’s grin in Alice in Wonderland, it remains hanging in the air, etched in memory, a testament to national disgrace.

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