Israel maintains warm ties with Myanmar, downplaying a human rights controversy

The Jewish state continues to claim its ‘first friend’ in Asia is kosher, despite widespread violence by the government against Rohingya Muslims

6 February 2019

Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority has earned the country widespread condemnation in recent years. A United Nations investigator and the US House of Representatives have warned that the Myanmar military’s recent ramping up of violence against the group constitutes genocide.

Last August, the US State Department tallied atrocities in the Buddhist-majority country’s northern Rakhine State, concluding that violence there was “extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seems geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents.” Some 1.1 million Rohingya have fled Myanmar.

Despite the widespread condemnation, however, Israel remains on friendly terms with Myanmar and has remained relatively silent on what even the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has called “compelling evidence” of genocide in the country that straddles South and Southeast Asia.

What’s more, the Jewish state allowed its arms companies to sell weapons to Myanmar’s military through the fall of 2017, long after most Western countries had banned such sales by its firms. It remains unclear if the Israeli firms are still supplying Myanmar’s military with assistance besides weapons, including surveillance technology, training and intelligence.

Contacted by JTA, most of the firms refused to clarify on their current sales. One firm, TAR Ideal Concepts, refuted reports that it had sold arms to Myanmar.

Observers say Israel’s cooperation and selective silence reflects both the Jewish state’s closeness with Myanmar and its demonstrated foreign policy preference for prosaic diplomacy over human rights.

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