'Extremists on Both Sides'

If Israel sells weapons to Myanmar, how is it not contributing to the ethnic cleansing there?

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Myanmar soldiers patrol a road in Maungdaw, August 31, 2017.
Myanmar soldiers patrol a road in Maungdaw, August 31, 2017.Credit: SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS

Israel is justified in selling arms to Myanmar because "both sides are perpetrating war crimes in Burma,” according to Israel’s deputy consul in New York, Amir Sagie, referring to the country’s former name. He was commenting on reports that Israel sold weapons to the Burmese army while it was conducting ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. Using rhetoric that would do a kindergartener justice, Sagie told American rabbis who were protesting the commercial and military ties between the two countries that “the current situation arose after the Moslems attacked Burmese army positions.” Israel has adopted, he explained, a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Burma or of any other country. Non-intervention is a vague policy which can justify the selling of weapons to Myanmar, or, for that matter, to extremists on both sides.

Sagie rejected claims that Israel had a role in the massacres and blamed, as usual, the media, which presents Israel as the “worst country in the world.” But if Israel sells weapons to Myanmar, how is it not contributing to the ethnic cleansing there?

Last month, the High Court of Justice ruled on a petition filed by human rights groups trying to block these sales. The ruling remained under wraps due to a gag order. If the state, sanctioned by the High Court, hides the truth from the public, the public has no recourse but to rely on the media and on human rights groups.

In a related matter, Be’er Sheva mayor Ruvik Danilovich has threatened the human rights group Negev Coexistence Forum, which is planning to hold a public debate about Israel’s military industry and its global sales. The Forum intends to use a municipal facility, and the mayor threatened to prevent this from happening. Danilovich used a technical pretext but his real agenda is to muzzle dissent. “The plan is to hold a debate which will besmirch Israel, its values and image,” he said in accusing the group, thus placing it in the category of “extremists on both sides.” If Danilovich really cared about Israel’s values and wasn’t just looking for groundless pretexts for making baseless accusations against the “messenger,” he would do well to attend the debate. There, he could learn the shameful facts about Israel’s arms deals with the worst of regimes and perhaps join the real campaign over Israel’s image.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel