On Monday October 30, an historical protest took place in front of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Approximately 100 people gathered to protest the sale of arms and military training by Israel to Myanmar, where these weapons and tactics are being used in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in the west of the country. The protest was organized by activists from the extreme right and radical left in Israel, and attended by Members of Knesset Tamar Zandberg and Mossi Raz from the left wing party Meretz, as well as Yehuda Glik from the right side of the Likud party and Moshe Faygleen a former (and future?) member of the Likud party, again from the furthest right side of that party.
This protest came only a month after a protest by Israeli Muslims at the Myanmar embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on a petition demanding the end of Israeli arms sales to Myanmar after. While a gag-order was placed on the ruling – a rare and frightening decision in itself – we do know that a week later another sale of Israeli naval ships to Myanmar was announced. These latest weapons are to be added to the ongoing sale of tanks, assault rifles, trainings and other Israeli military support to Myanmar.
While it is predominantly Israeli left wing activists who have brought this issue to the attention of the public, through this court case, brought by human rights activists and lawyer Eitay Mack, and through Zandberg’s proposed bill to restrict arms sales in cases of gross human rights violations, the protest movement now includes dedicated right wing activists, a growing number of Rabbis both in Israel and abroad, and more and more politicians from across the political map.
Speaker after speaker at the protest, from both the right and the left, came back to two main points: Firstly, the question of how we as Jews, who as a people went through a Holocaust, are willing to not only stand idly by while genocides and ethnic cleansings are being committed, but even arm them? For not only is this happening in Myanmar, but has also been the case in Rwanda, Angola, Bosnia, the military regimes in Chile and Argentina and dozens of other historical examples. And secondly, as Jews, we are told to be a light upon the nations, and instead, as MK Mossi Raz put it, we have replaced it with Uzi’s upon the nations.
Both these arguments start with the same basic idea: “As Jews”. We are meant to have, it would seem, a different moral standard as Jews. But do we? And what makes this particular arms sale so different? Because it is not just in Israel that people from across the political spectrum are gathering together, and taking collective action, to say that Israel needs to cease selling arms to Myanmar. In both the US and Australia, for instance, organisations within the Jewish communities from the Left to the mainstream to the center-right – organisations who are generally loathe to criticize Israel’s ideas about the military – are coming together to say that the violence is too great.
These are, we must recognize, sometimes individuals and organisations who do not maintain the same standards for human rights when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians. Their focus, normally, is on how so-called ‘safety’ and ‘security’ can be achieved for Jews, at least for some Jews. But here, at this protest in Jerusalem, it felt different.
It felt like these politicians were taking on a risk, acting with victims who are Muslim, not Jewish, problematizing a decision of the security establishment and the Ministry of Defense. People seemed, truly, to be acting on this issue from a deep sense of commitment and conscientious. We cannot live with the knowledge that it is “our” Israeli weapons that are committing these atrocities, and not act against it. This is the feeling that seems to be echoing around Jewish communities around the world.
These atrocities might be a discovery on the part of the Israeli left and now the right, and the need to speak out is honorable, for the risk they believe they are taking. And yet, these experiences have been well known for those who have been most affected by Israeli militarization and racist policies, from the Nakba, to occupation, to community control and racist policing, including Palestinians, Ethiopian, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, African Asylum seekers, and ‘foreign workers,’ Uplifting these struggles for justice against militarization, policing and racism should also be a focal point for the Israeli left and right, many of whom have been part of the European Ashkenazi leadership and the elite and are able to see Israel’s image as tarnished from the outside, but not yet the internal work necessary to cease these behaviors inside.
The challenge remains – how to make this change happen? How to force the Israeli government to listen to people, in Israel and outside, and stop aiding this genocide? And how to make this movement against the use of military force, against profit through the waging of death and destruction, against industry and sentiment built around militarization, break through for all Israeli arms sales? The challenge we face is to, in the immediate moment, force Israel to stop selling these weapons while also continuing to ensure that the trialling of weapons on Palestinians, and the turning of weapons upon them in ever more creative, violent and insidious ways, ceases.
One way in which we can do this is through collective international action. We must model the cross-border justice-led movements we wish to seek. Sedq, an international Jewish network for Justice that we are part of, has recently launched a Facebook campaign asking people around the world, and especially in the Jewish Communities, to call and write Israeli embassies and demand Israel stops its arms sales to Myanmar. This is just one example. There are numerous other campaigns going on around the world: it is incumbent upon all of us to find a way to make an impact, to find a way to put pressure on Israel to stop supporting the destruction their weapons are causing.
If Israel seeks to claim legitimacy in the family of nations, then the government has an obligation to end its participation in global arms production and sale, as it leads to the supplying of weapons to states that then use them against marginalised peoples. Israel must cease its practices of turning weapons on Palestinians, and globally fomenting Islamophobic sentiments and practices. And Israel must also stop the use of its militarized and racist practices and policing on Ethiopian, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, African Asylum seekers, and documented and undocumented foreign workers. As Eitay Mack says, “ One cannot fight anti-Semitism seriously without fighting racism inside and outside Israel, and without ending Israeli support for racist regimes across the world.” And all of those who have stood together at this moment must continue to stand together. To take the lessons from the protest that we should not be the Uzi’s for the nations, but must find a way to rethink what it means to be safe in the world, working towards justice and peace rather than the perpetuation of arms, militarization and violence.
Sahar, Jordy and ilise are all part of Sedq: Global Jewish Network for Justice, which has members from all continents and over 13 countries.