“The two sides in the conflict are conducting war crimes” in Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, an Israeli diplomat, told six American rabbis who voiced concern about reports of Israeli arms sales to the Southeast Asian country. The rabbis were worried that Israeli businesses could be contributing to what the UN has termed ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim minority, but Amir Sagie, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York, told the rabbis that, to the best of Israel’s knowledge, the current crisis “started after Muslims attacked government positions in Myanmar.”
His position is considered consistent with that of the Foreign Ministry regarding reports in the media regarding Israel’s ties with Myanmar. Sagie stated, “We totally deny any kind of connection of Israel with this tragedy. There is no direct or indirect connection with what is going on with the Rohingya people.” He added that Israel “applies a policy of non-intervention in Myanmar’s domestic affairs.”
Sagie refused to give details about Israel’s arms trade with Myanmar, saying the state “does not publicly discuss with our friends or foes Israel’s military or defense relationships.” He also noted that the Supreme Court had rejected a petition against the arms deals, but that that verdict remains classified.
The meeting took place after T’ruah – The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights – organized a petition to Israel over the arms deal two weeks ago. The rabbis at the meeting, who represent several different Jewish movements, were T’ruah Executive Director Jill Jacobs, Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, Amichai Lau-Lavie, David Ingber, Felicia Sol and Steve Gutow. They said it was clear Sagie had come to the meeting prepared, with his remarks written out in advance.
Sagie suggested that the false connections made between the Myanmar and Israeli governments are a “blood libel.” Israel, he added, is routinely accused of every evil under the sun, so now it is being accused in the Rohingyas’ slaughter as well. “You do not see us saying we’re supportive of the regime’s actions against the Rohingya – it’s the opposite,” he said.
Israeli weapons are being sold to Myanmar despite the restrictions on weapons sales to that country. Only last month Israel refused to announce that it would stop selling weapons to Myanmar despite the UN declaration about ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya minority is now considered the most persecuted people in the world.
Israel and Myanmar in recent years have signed a memorandum of understanding clarifying the bilateral cooperation and transfer of relevant information and intelligence. According to official reports in Myanmar, the agreement includes military training and improving security cooperation between the two countries, including the sale of two Israeli Super Dvora III military sea craft.