A 21-year-old student in a religious seminary challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Israel’s arms-export policy, questioning whether Israel should tighten its controls on sales to countries with poor human rights records.
Israeli made patrol boats with weapons systems and advanced rifles have been sold to Myanmar, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority, while assault rifles have been sold to South Sudan which is in the midst of a brutal civil war.
Netanyahu visited the religious seminary of Migdal Oz outside of Efrat earlier this week and engaged in a question-and answer-session with the students there.
Hadas Weissberg of Jerusalem stated in her question that Israel had been founded on “the principle of justice in the spirit of the visions of the prophets of Israel.” She asked if Netanyahu would support a law that would increase export controls on Israeli weapons to such countries.
Netanyahu started by saying some of Weissberg’s assertions were “incorrect” and, while not addressing the issue of arms sales, said Israel lives in a world where it needs to maintain good relations with powerful countries.
“There are several countries, including global powers, with which we have an interest in maintaining contacts, some of which are not exactly democracies like Luxembourg,” said the prime minister.
“I also maintain personal relations with a not inconsiderable number of Arab leaders. I can’t tell you that all these countries are wonderful democracies. But I can tell you that we have a massive interest in maintaining and nurturing these relations, because they and us are threatened by the most dangerous, most dictatorial and most cruel country, which executes thousands of its citizens every year and threatens to destroy us.”
The prime minister did not address whether or not he would back a law to increase controls on arms sales, as was introduced to the Knesset during the last session but was not advanced.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Weissberg said she had “a great deal of appreciation for the prime minister” and his devotion to public service, but argued that Israel needs to take into account human rights issues in its arms exports policies.
“A verse in the Torah says ‘the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground’,” quoted Weissberg from the biblical account of the slaying of Abel by his brother Cain.
“The people in these countries [where war crimes and genocide takes place] have no voice, and no prime minister is looking out for them. We need to think of them too, we can prevent much suffering in these countries and we need to take these people into consideration. Our rifles are being used against them,” she said.
She conceded the need to preserve relations with powerful countries but said that regardless it would still be possible to limit arms sales to smaller countries with bad human rights records.
“I have often thought about how I would have felt if I would have lived during the Holocaust, and I think the hardest thing would be the feeling of abandonment, that no one cares about us and it is very hard for me to hear that we are abandoning people.”
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 more than 900,000 Rohingya have fled the country since 2015 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 titled “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 there began in 2013, although the rifles were likely sold before the violence broke out.
Rabbi Avidan Freedman, an educator and activist in the National-Religious community, described Netanyahu’s response as “between evasive and outright deceitful,” pointing out that Weissberg asked about weapons sales not diplomatic relations.
He said Israel had been issuing export licenses for weapons to Myanmar up to August 2017, while reports of severe human rights abuses and genocide were made by the US Holocaust Museum in 2015 and the UN reported on mass killings of Rohingya in 2016.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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