Senior national religious rabbis call for Knesset oversight on arms sales

The letter comes as activists for tighter oversight of arms sales to foreign countries staged a demonstration in the Rose Garden in front of the Knesset on Tuesday evening.

The Knesset building (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset building
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Several senior national-religious rabbis have signed a letter calling for political support for proposed legislation by Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar which would require the Knesset to establish an oversight committee for arms sales to foreign countries.
The legislation, which has not yet been submitted to the Knesset, would require the committee to take into account ethical considerations when issuing an export license to a weapons manufacturer, and instruct the Defense Ministry and other government authorities which countries Israel cannot sell arms to.
The letter comes as activists for tighter oversight of arms sales to foreign countries staged a demonstration in the Rose Garden in front of the Knesset on Tuesday evening.
Among the signatories to the letter is Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a dean at the prestigious Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut; Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun, one of Har Etzion’s founders; Rabbi Benny Lau, a prominent leader in the liberal religious-Zionist community; and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a prominent ethicist.
“It is important to remember that Jewish law explicitly forbids the sale of weapons to non-Jews who are suspected of misusing [such weapons] and causing injury to many people,” the rabbis declared, citing the rulings of Maimonides.
“Every sale of this type requires a deep and thorough examination according to Jewish law,” they said.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Medan described Israel’s arms sales to foreign countries as “a matter of life and death,” and a critical moral issue.
The rabbi said that according to Jewish law, someone who supplies weapons to another party has indirect responsibility for what is done with those weapons, and that Israel therefore must be careful regarding to whom it sells arms.
He insisted that Israel must be able to sell arms in order to maintain its position as a leader in producing cutting-edge weapons for its own defense, and said that this must be allowed to continue.
“But it has to be to countries that protect human rights, and have principles of how to use these weapons,” said Medan, adding that Israel has “made mistakes” in the past regarding some of its arms sales contracts.
“It can’t be that every exporter can do anything they want. It has to be under inspection, just like all other normal countries have instituted.”
According to Rabbi Avidan Freedman, an educator and activist in the Religious Zionist community who organized a protest on Tuesday night against arms sales to human rights abusers, there have been several instances in recent years when Israel has exported weapons to states with poor human rights records.
In 2017, the Myanmar military made public their purchase of three Super Dvora MK III patrol boats manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, reportedly with weapons systems installed on them.
According to human rights groups, ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northern region began in late 2016, and over 900,000 Rohingya have fled the country since 2015 to due to a campaign of mass arson, rape, massacres and other atrocities carried out by Myanmar security forces.
In August 2016, the Israeli global defense contracting company Tar Ideal Concept Ltd. published pictures on their website of Myanmar 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.”
ACE Galil assault rifles manufactured by Israel Military Industries have also been sold to South Sudan, where atrocities have been carried out since the civil war began there in 2013, although the rifles were likely sold before the violence broke out.
Export licenses for arms sales to foreign countries are not made public, so strict monitoring of them is difficult.
Freedman said that the activists are not against Israel’s arms sales industry, but simply object to exporting weapons to countries that are known to abuse human rights and should therefore come under heightened inspection.