Israel and U.S. Must Stop Supporting Ethnic Cleansing of Burma’s Rohingya

RELEASE DATE: September 29, 2017

As U.S. rabbis and cantors, we join in the recent call issued by 55 Israeli rabbis and community leaders urging the Israeli government to stop weapons sales to Burma (Myanmar) and military training services there in the face of a brutal, potentially genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority community. We also support the members of Congress who have stepped across party lines to issue a bipartisan letter calling for the U.S. to “immediately suspend all planned training programs with Burma’s military.”  

Testimony and aerial photographs attest to the Burmese military carrying out a campaign of murder, gang-rape, the burning of villages, and expulsions that have led to an escalating refugee crisis. In their open letter, our Israeli colleagues write, “The United Nations’ representative for human rights called the current situation in Burma a ‘text-book case of ethnic cleansing.’ . . . It is untenable that a state founded on the vision of the prophets should support such a government.”

The rabbis of the Talmud forbid selling “weapons or accessories of weapons” to dangerous individuals or groups, as well as “grind[ing] any weapon” or even selling a certain kind of iron predominantly used for weapons lest we find ourselves contributing to bloodshed. (Avodah Zarah 15b-16a). Rambam explains that this prohibition extends to selling “anything injurious to the public, like the weapons of war or instruments of torture. . . in order to not to aid the destroyers of the world in destroying.” (Commentary to the Mishnah, AZ 1:7)

China, Russia, and India continue to be the primary enablers of the Burmese military. But as American citizens and as Jews, we refuse to accept any involvement by the U.S. or by Israel in training or arming a military that is carrying out a brutal ethnic cleansing against a minority population. The European Union has already ceased any training or weapons sales, all EU nationals except for Italy have ended military trainings, and both Israel and the U.S. should do the same.

We stand alongside the Israeli human rights leaders  who have petitioned the High Court of Justice to intervene to end weapons sales to Burma. We also support the request by our rabbinic colleagues for the decision of the court to be public, as well as the bipartisan Congressional letter by many of our elected representatives in the U.S. calling for an end to any U.S. support for the Burmese military.

As Jews, we see haunting historical parallels between the Jewish experience and the current plight of the Rohingya people. Our commitment to “Never Again” compels us to take action to protect today’s victims of ethnic cleansing. In this season of teshuvah, when we recommit to being our best selves, we call on the State of Israel to join us in teshuvah for arms sales to Burma, and for both the U.S. and Israel to end all military training activities.

For more information contact  Ayelet Hines at or (202) 270-7365.