The Israeli embassy in Myanmar’s former capital of Yangon sits just outside the city center off Inya Lake, protected by automatic weapon-bearing local guards and thick unscalable walls.
I visited in December 2018 to interview Israel’s envoy Ronen Gilor about Myanmar’s dwindling Jewish community. But when I brought up the Myanmar military’s widely-reported persecution of the Rohingya Muslims – an issue relevant to anyone’s relationship with Myanmar – and of Israeli arms sales to that same force, Ambassador Gilor pushed back and refused to answer my questions.
When we spoke, Gilor extended an "open invitation to visit Israel" to Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a peace icon turned pariah for her inaction during and apathy towards the military’s continued crimes.
Last week, Gilor on Twitter wished Suu Kyi "encouragement for a good decision and good luck" as she traveled to The Hague to personally defend Myanmar from International Criminal Court (ICJ) charges of Rohingya genocide. Gilor deleted the tweet; Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had been written "in error."
A now-deleted tweet by Israel’s ambassador to Myanmar, Ronen Gilor
Israeli arms and military technology sales to Myanmar have earned Jerusalem scorn. But after Gilor’s tweet, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs surprisingly condemned "the atrocities that took place in the Rakhine region against the Rohingya." Israel previously refused to use the term "Rohingya" seemingly in deference to the Myanmar government that rejects the term and does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, instead considering them "Bengalis."
But this new Israeli statement is still too passive. Most glaringly, it fails to note who committed these "atrocities."
Now, as Myanmar faces charges for the world’s worst crime – and India, another Israeli ally, passes legislation paving the way towards similar exclusion and violence – it is more necessary than ever that Israeli leaders ensure that the Jewish state and people never facilitate, or even tacitly tolerate, genocide.