A diplomatic scandal that erupted Wednesday demonstrated once more the depth of Israel’s dubious relations with Myanmar (formerly Burma), which faces trial in the International Court of Justice in The Hague over allegations for the genocide of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
For years Israel secretly authorized weapon sales to Myanmar, even after the accusations of mass slaughter, rapes and the burning of Rohingya villages become known and after a European Union arms embargo and U.S. sanctions on the country. Only the tenacious battle waged by a small group of Israeli human rights activists, headed by lawyer Eitay Mack, brought an official halt to this trade.
Despite the ostensible end of arms sales, relations between Israel and Myanmar in a number of civilian areas have become increasingly closer. For example, in May 2018 the Foreign Ministry signed an educational cooperation agreement with Myanmar. Ironically, it includes curriculum materials on the lessons of the Holocaust and on fighting racism. Recently, following Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s announcement that she would represent her state in The Hague, Israel’s ambassador to Myanmar, Ronen Gilor, sent hearty wishes to those charged with the massacre. “Good luck,” he tweeted on two occasions this week. He only deleted the messages after Haaretz addressed a query to the Foreign Ministry about it (Noa Landau, Wednesday).
In the wake of the public criticism that followed the report of the tweets, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued an official condemnation, for the first time, of the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya. The statement also noted that “About a week ago, Israel voted in favor of a United Nations resolution denouncing the atrocities.” Even if it came too late, it’s good to have a clear denunciation of this.
But Myanmar is only one of a number of murderous regimes to which Israel has supplied weapons, under a fog of censorship and draconian restrictions on publication. In South Sudan Israeli guns, sold with the state’s authorization, have also been used for murderous causes. Activists also warn of the ongoing arms trade with the Philippines, whose police forces have been accused of human rights violations, and claim that Israeli weapons have been obtained by neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine.
The state’s failure to allow the issue to be debated publicly at the time of the events amounts to an admission that its cooperation with murderous regimes is a great moral failure. This disgrace must be stopped immediately.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.