Netanyahu heckled at Bible quiz over arms sales to rights abusers

Protesters slam military assistance to murderous regimes, including Myanmar, interrupting Jerusalem event

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks ay the annual Bible contest in Jerusalem on December 19, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks ay the annual Bible contest in Jerusalem on December 19, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Protesters against alleged Israeli weapons sales to murderous regimes heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during his speech at the start of the annual Bible Quiz for adults.

The demonstrators carried banners reading “Disgrace! We are supposed to be a light unto the nations, stop making money from the Burmese Holocaust” and “We are supposed to be a light unto the nations and not an armorer to murderers.”

Netanyahu tried to continue his address over the jeers, but it took several minutes until the demonstrators were ushered from the room and calm was restored.

The demonstrators were protesting arms sales to regimes suspected of human right’s abuses, including Myanmar.

Some in the audience at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem showed support for the prime minister by chanting his nickname, “Bibi, Bibi.”

This photo taken on October 9, 2017 shows Rohingya refugees wading while holding a child after crossing the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh in Whaikhyang on October 9, 2017. (AFP/Fred Dufour)

Separately on Tuesday, Israeli activists demanded that Israel halt arms exports to Honduras amid violent protests there following disputed elections.

A group representative, lawyer Eitay Mack, sent a letter to the Defense Ministry asking that it freeze or annul the arms sales over accusations of human rights abuses committed by Honduran security forces. The letter, sent last week and obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday, comes after weeks of protests following Honduras’ November 26 election, in which at least 14 people have been killed.

Israel typically keeps its arms exports classified and Israel’s Defense Ministry had no immediate comment. Honduras disclosed details of a $209 million arms deal last year that includes communications equipment and surveillance drones for the army and cyber security systems for Honduras’ intelligence service.

In November the Foreign Ministry stated categorically that it was no longer selling weapons to Myanmar, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing, amid an international outcry against the arms sales.

While admitting it had sold weapons to Myanmar in the past, the ministry said it had frozen all military sales several months ago.

The statement referred only to weapons sales, but made no mention of other security-related products, like surveillance technology or military training services.

Riot police officers and army soldiers, use tear gas and a water cannon to disperse supporters of opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla during protests in Tegucigalpa, December 18, 2017. (ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP)

Under Israeli law, the end use of defense exports is supposed to be an issue of consideration before a company may sell to a particular country.

The Defense Ministry is directly responsible for the oversight of arms sales, but the Foreign Ministry also weighs in on the decisions of which countries can receive Israeli arms.

In September activists petitioned the government to cease exports to Myanmar.

It was later reported that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had frozen military export licenses to the country.

Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, seeking refuge from what Myanmar’s military has called “clearance operations.” The crisis started in August, when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar security forces, leading to a brutal crackdown in which soldiers and Buddhist mobs have killed men, raped woman and burned homes and property to force the Rohingya to leave.

Nearly half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled across the border following the violent crackdown. The UN has called the campaign a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” and others have said it amounts to genocide.

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