by Eitay Mack
Israel was the only Western state to endorse the Rwandan dictatorship’s scandalous proposal in January to change the factual and legal international consensus about the genocide that took place there in 1994. The Rwandan government seeks to create a new narrative that deletes from memory the murder of moderate Hutus who supported a compromise with the Tutsis. Following the resolution’s adoption, Noa Furman, Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UN, delivered a passionate speech justifying Israel’s support for the proposal with the claim that Israel, after the Holocaust, understands the global responsibility to remember human history’s darkest episodes.
Israel’s support for the Rwandan government’s proposal to rewrite its history has far-reaching implications for Rwanda itself. Israel’s support grants legitimacy to Paul Kagame, the Rwandan dictator, who is intensifying his harsh internal repression. Kagame has managed to remain president for life by holding improper elections and by the constant surveillance, persecution, torture, disappearance, and murder of opposition activists. The regime also restricts freedom of press and freedom of association. Thus, for example, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who headed the opposition United Democratic Forces party, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment after she asked why the museum commemorating the Rwandan genocide does not mention the Hutus who were murdered.
Foot-Dragging and War of Attrition
Israel’s support for the Rwandan government’s proposal also has far-reaching implications for the ability to prevent genocide in the future. Proposals like this one restrict our understanding of the phenomenon of genocide as a product of the development of complex processes, which we can nip in the bud once we recognize their telltale signs. In Rwanda and Guatemala, for example, civil wars escalated into genocides. Had the international community acted to stop these civil wars and the flow of arms into these countries, perhaps the genocides could have been prevented. Today, we fear that the civil war in South Sudan could escalate into a genocide, but the UN Security Council is split — unable to agree on a resolution that calls for an arms embargo, significant sanctions on those responsible for the crimes and for the ongoing war, and their indictment.
Deputy Ambassador Furman lied on the podium of the UN General Assembly. I assume she knows this. For decades, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which she represents, has authorized or turned a blind eye to the exporting of arms and training to dictatorships and other violent regimes. Indeed, the Israeli defense industry has reached nearly every corner of the globe where genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and severe violations of human rights have occurred, supplying Uzis to members of the Tonton Macoute militia, which raped and murdered the masses of Haiti during the Duvalier dictatorship; arms and training to the militias of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines; arms and training to the Guatemalan regime during the genocide there; and guns and munitions to Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.
Not only has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allowed the selling of arms and training to despotic and murderous regimes (and continues to do so today), but the Ministry has also conducted a war of attritionagainst those attempting to expose these arms deals and bring them to the public’s attention. This January, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected a freedom of information petition, which I filed with genocide scholar Prof. Yair Auron, demanding the publication of documents regarding weapons sales to Rwanda during the genocide. The legal campaign began four years ago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs objects to the publication of these documents, although it was already revealed in a letter we received from the State Attorney that the ministry had “missed” the beginning of the genocide by six days. During these six days, around 20,000 people were murdered in the capital Kigali alone before the director of the Defense Ministry ordered the freezing of security exports to the country. Furthermore, there is solid evidence that Israeli security exports continuedthroughout the entire span of the genocide.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs numerous foot-dragging tactics. Court hearings in cases regarding defense exports have been cancelled more than once at the very last minute because the ministry’s representative had to travel abroad all of a sudden. The freedom of information procedures take years. We have been waiting for two years for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to finish checking whether it can disclose the documents regarding arms sales to the military dictatorship in Argentina, which murdered or disappeared around 2,000 Jews. When we appealed to the Supreme Court, the government demanded that we post tens of thousands of shekels in guarantees just to be able to carry out the procedure to disclose the truth.
Lessons from the Holocaust
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposes revealing documents that detail Israeli sales of arms and training to Pinochet’s junta in Chile, which was responsible for cruel, unprecedented tortures. The same holds true for documents that detail arms sales during the civil war in Sri Lanka, where tens of thousands of civilians were murdered in several months — by planes and ships made in Israel. The ministry refuses to disclose documents regarding arms and training sales to the apartheid regime in South Africa and to the Serbian and Serbo-Bosnian forces during the war and genocide in Bosnia. The ministry has asked the Israeli Supreme Court for a gag order on the court’s ruling regarding arms and weapons sales to Myanmar, where an EU and U.S. arms embargo is in place. And the ministry has asked the courts for a gag order on the legal proceedings regarding weapons and surveillance systems sold to South Sudan, which, according to the UN Security Council, are being used to commit crimes against humanity there.
When Myanmar’s ambassador to Israel repeatedly claimed in interviews with Israeli media that Israel is still selling arms to Myanmar, and that the deal between the two countries was intended to bypass the EU and U.S. arms embargo, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reprimanded him. We have yet to hear the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Israeli ambassador to the UN publicly criticize the crimes that Myanmar’s security forces are committing, in particular the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
Similarly, despite the presence of a local Armenian community in Israel and an ongoing public, academic and political campaign, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prevented an official Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide for decades, so as not to harm Israeli arms sales to Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should atone for Israel’s weapons deals with despots around the world instead of collaborating with the Rwandan government to rewrite history. It is imperative that the ministry increase transparency regarding past and present Israeli defense exports. Israelis who have been complicit in grave crimes across the world — this includes senior former officials in the ministry — must be brought to justice — civil and criminal. The current law for monitoring security exports must be amended, so that the sale of Israeli arms to foreign security forces that commit severe crimes, such as disappearing people or using rape as a weapon of war, can be prevented. MK Tamar Zandberg has been trying to promote such legislation in the Knesset for several years, but has so far been blocked by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries.
Over the years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its representatives have been complicit in the sale of arms and training used in atrocities across the world, and complicit in concealing documentation of these atrocities from the Israeli public. They have dishonored the memory of the Holocaust, its survivors and their families.
Eitay Mack is a human rights activist and lawyer, campaigning for increased transparency and public scrutiny regarding Israeli security exports. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here. Translated from the original Hebrew by Ofer Neiman. Reprinted, with permission, from +972 Magazine. Photo: Benjamin Netanyahu, Paul Kagame, and Reuven Rivlin.