Forget Trump: Israel’s sordid history of supporting dictatorships

Netanyahu’s silence in the face of the White House’s anti-Semitism should surprise no one. From Argentina to Rwanda, Israel has a sordid history of providing weapons and support to murderous dictatorships.

By Eitay Mack (translated by Ofer Neiman)

President Donald Trump walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony the president, as he arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, May 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
President Donald Trump walks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony the president, as he arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, May 22, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Netanyahu government was silent in January when the Trump Administration omitted any reference to Jewish victims from its official statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Netanyahu government was silent in July when Trump chose to be the first U.S. president since the fall of the Communist regime in Poland, to forgo a visit to the monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In a speech delivered in Warsaw on the topic of World War II in Poland, Trump stressed the suffering of the Polish people and failed to mentioned the Jews who fell victim to anti-Semitism and Nazi collaborators. After a shameful delay, Netanyahu joined the last Western leaders and condemned Trump’s comparison of neo-Nazis and white supremacists to anti-racist protesters.

The attempt to portray this conduct of the Israeli government as another moral failure of the Israeli Right is a historical mistake. One can safely assume that a “leftist” government headed by the Zionist Camp or Yesh Atid parties would act similarly to Netanyahu, just as Israeli Labor Party governments had previously done. After all, political and economic interests have always come first. Successive Israeli governments have abetted the genocides of other nations, preferring realpolitik to confronting anti-Semitism, Nazism, and the like.

The first Rabin Government (1974-1977) did not balk at hosting Apartheid South Africa’s Prime Minister John Vorster in April 1976. He had been a member of a pro-Nazi group during World War II. The visit was part of Israel’s security relations with the apartheid regime. During his visit, Vorster laid a wreath at Yad Vashem. The apartheid regime tried to develop chemical weapons that would harm black Africans only, including the fertility of African women.

South African Prime Minister Vorster meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Knesset members Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan, during a reception at Jerusalem's Hilton.
South African Prime Minister Vorster meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Knesset members Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan, during a reception at Jerusalem’s Hilton.

That regime also developed chemical toxins for the murder of individuals in the liberation movements, which included scientific experiments on Africans. Such experiments were carried out on prisoners of war; after they were killed, their bodies were dumped by planes in the Atlantic Ocean. Documents in the South African archives, uncovered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigative journalist Sasha Polakow-Suransky, reveal that the director of this project, Wouter Basson, also known as Dr. Death, visited Israel in 1979. Basson sent his representatives to additional visits to Israel for consultations with Israeli security officials, with Israeli representatives even taking part in a conference, as part of this mad plan, which was held in South Africa in 1986.

Both the first Rabin Government and the Begin Government collaborated with the junta in Argentina, despite the fact that Jews were murdered by the regime between 1976 and 1983 in large numbers. Members of the military government supported Nazi ideology and the repression of dissidents included the use of Nazi expressions and symbols, even in torture chambers. In the generals’ trials, which took place following Argentina’s transition democracy in Argentina, some officials testified that they had drawn inspiration from the Nazis for their actions. Senior officials in the Carter administration upset Israel by expressing their bewilderment at the Jewish state’s willingness to turn a blind eye and collaborate with an anti-Semitic regime that persecuted Jews.

Between 1973 and 1991, Israeli governments and the IDF sold weapons and training to Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, a regime that committed crimes against humanity, disappeared thousands, and tortured tens of thousands. The Pinochet regime brought torture to new heights of cruelty, unseen in modern history. The State of Israel was not interested in this regime’s ties with Nazi war criminals; Pinochet had granted asylum to senior Nazi criminal Walter Rauff, the inventor of the mobile gas chamber. One of the regime’s central torture centers was Colonia Dignidad, a Nazi and neo-Nazi colony in southern Chile. On top of that, Israel also engaged in public relations efforts for Pinochet in Washington.

Chilean President Augusto Pinochet meets with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976.
Chilean President Augusto Pinochet meets with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976.

In the 70s and 80s, Israeli governments sold arms to the military regimes in Bolivia. One of the senior figures in the Bolivian junta’s security establishment, which cast terror on the indigenous population, was senior Nazi criminal Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in Lyon, who was nicknamed “The Butcher of Lyon.”

In the 70s and 80s, Israeli governments and IDF officers sold arms and training to the juntas in Guatemala, which carried out a genocide of around 200,000 people, most of them indigenous.

Between 1991-1995, the second Rabin Government sold arms used in both the Rwandan Genocide and the Bosnian War. As early as mid-1992, reports and footage of concentration camps set up by the Serbs for Bosnian Muslims began to emerge. Detainees in these camps were starved and tortured, and their bodies were thrown to the animals. Additional findings attested to the existence of rape camps, where Serbs held Muslim and Croatian women. Yet Israeli arms exports did not stop. At a Knesset hearing on August 5th 1992, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres confirmed that acts of massacre had indeed been carried out, but repeatedly refused to assign responsibility to Serbian criminals affiliated with Israel.

A concentration camp in Bosnia. (ITN)
A concentration camp in Bosnia. (ITN)

In the summer of 2016, the Netanyahu Government sold weapons and provided training to the Burmese (Myanmar) special forces, who are committing crimes against humanity in Rakhine State, against the Muslim Rohingya minority. Women and girls are being raped; civilians are being tortured, murdered, and disappeared. Security forces employ “scorched earth” methods, while civilian property is looted and entire villages are going up in flames, some set ablaze by rockets aimed at residential houses.

In September 2016, it was revealed that Israel is trying, through the U.S. and European states, to ensure the lifting of sanctions against Sudan, following the latter’s abandonment of its alliance with Iran. This took place although no one can deny that Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir — wanted by the International Criminal Court for the genocide in Darfur — continues to commit grave crimes.

Three laws — The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law (1950), The Israeli Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1950) and Article 16 of the Israeli Penal Law (added in 1994), which deals with offenses by “the Law of the Nations” — have all stipulated universal jurisdiction in Israel for severe crimes under international law. In reality, these laws have been rendered null and void by the IDF, the Ministry of Defense, Israeli arms dealers, and senior Israeli officials. Thus, the state attorney announced that he would not open a criminal investigation into Israeli security exports to Rwanda during the genocide there in 1994, or into the delivery of Galil-Ace rifles used for crimes against humanity in South Sudan in December 2013, or for selling arms and training used for crimes against humanity by the Pinochet regime in Chile.

Similarly to its efforts to distinguish the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews from other genocides, Israel also tries to distinguish anti-Semitism from racism against other populations in the world. Even if anti-Semitism and the Holocaust have unique characteristics, it is now evident that understanding the universal characteristics of the phenomenon of racism and the conditions for genocide are the key to preventing them from happening.

The State of Israel’s fight against global anti-Semitism has been hollow from the beginning, in view of the racist elements underlying the ostensibly democratic regime within the Green Line and the military government in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as Israel’s treatment of Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Palestinian citizens, refugees, and foreign workers. One cannot fight anti-Semitism seriously without fighting racism inside and outside Israel, and without ending Israeli support for racist regimes across the world. One cannot speak of the lessons of the Holocaust while abetting the genocide of other nations, and even inviting murderers to lay wreaths at Yad Vashem.

Eitay Mack is an Israeli human rights lawyer and activist, who is active for increased transparency and public scrutiny of Israeli security exports. This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.