Rabbis call on gov’t to halt arms sales to Myanmar

More than 400,000 people from the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since late August, religous leaders say now is the time to "shun evil".

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A group of 54 rabbis, yeshiva deans, and female religious leaders have called on the government to cease all arms sales to Myanmar which has of late been condemned for what appears to be ethnic cleansing in its western state of Rakhine.
Among the signatories are Rabbi Benny Lau, head of the Ramban synagogue in Jerusalem; Tamar Biton, dean of Midreshet Amit Be’er; Chairman of the Beit Hillel rabbinical association Rabbi Meir Nehorai; former government minister and coexistence activist Rabbi Michael Melchior; and former education minister Rabbi Shai Piron, among others.
According to human rights groups, more than 400,000 people from the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since late August, due to a campaign of mass arson, rape, massacres and other atrocities carried out by Myanmar security forces.
The country has also been accused of war crimes in its states of Kachin and Shan.
In an open letter to the prime minister and government ministers, the rabbis and religious leaders expressed regret at their inability to carry out active measures to help, but said that they were nevertheless able to fulfill the Biblical injunction to “shun evil.”
Citing sources from a pending High Court of Justice petition against Israeli arms sales to the military regime in Myanmar, the rabbis wrote that it was unthinkable that the Jewish state, “Built on the vision of the prophets of Israel, will assist this regime.”
They continued: “As rabbis, female religious leaders, educators and communal leaders who go in the ways of the Torah ‘whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all its are peaceful’ we cannot be silent when the State of Israel assists those in the world who destroy in their destruction.”
The religious leaders acknowledged the importance of the country’s arm exports industry to its economy but said that oversight and appropriate ethical balances were nevertheless needed, and called for an end to arms sales to Myanmar as well as legislation to ensure that the government does not export arms to countries involved in severe crimes against humanity.
Earlier this year, independent lawyer and researcher Eitay Mack filed a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding that it order the Defense Ministry to cancel arms export licenses to Myanmar and refrain from issuing new ones while the military regime continues to carry our war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mack’s petition details how Sr.-Gen.
Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander- in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces which acts independently of the civilian government, along with other senior officers of the military junta, visited Israel in September 2015 and met with President Reuven Rivlin, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the heads of Israel’s security services and senior officials in Israel’s arms industry.
Hlaing himself published on his own Facebook page that he and his colleagues had visited Israel Aerospace Industries in Tel Aviv, ELTA Systems Ltd. in Ashdod, the Ashdod Naval Base, Southern Command headquarters, Palmahim Airbase, and Elbit Systems Ltd. in Rehovot among other stops.
The petition notes that Hlaing published on his Facebook page that he and his delegation rode in and examined a Super Dvora Mk III patrol boat at the Ashdod Naval Base accompanied by Israel Aerospace Industries vice president Nitzan Shaked, and that he said the Myanmar Navy had placed an order for these vessels.
In addition, the petition points out that the head the defense exports branch of the Defense Ministry, Brig.-Gen. Mishel Ben Baruch visited Myanmar in June 2016 and met with heads of military regime there.
In August 2016, the Israeli global defense contracting company Tar Ideal Concept Ltd. published pictures on their website of Burmese forces training with the Israeli manufactured CornerShot rifle, seemingly with Israeli trainers.
A document it published with the pictures was entitled “Israeli Corner- Shot now in service in Myanmar’s Special Operations Task Force” – although the pictures on its webpage now say “Asia” instead of “Myanmar.”
The Defense Ministry does not publish which countries can get export licenses for Israeli arms.
In its response to the petition, the Defense Ministry stated that the authority to approve or refuse arms export licenses lies exclusively within the power of the government and the executive branch and the court has no right to intervene on such issues.
In addition, the ministry argued that it does indeed carry out requisite oversight and consideration of state’s applying for export licenses, although it would only be able to provide the court with such information if it will not be published, owing to security and diplomatic requirements.
A hearing on the petition is scheduled for Monday morning.