Sitagu Sayadaw thinks human rights advocates ignore Israel at Myanmar’s expense

In a sermon delivered in September, the prominent monk known as Sitagu Sayadaw recounted what he saw during a recent visit to Israel (and, presumably, to within viewing distance of the occupied Palestinian territories).

A video of the sermon posted by the news site M-Media captures the monk describing “Muslim Palestinians and other Arabs […] being fenced in a place surrounded with wires like pigs and bulls by Israel”.

“Israel bullies Muslims; every quarter is fenced by razor blade wire,” says Sitagu Sayadaw.

The monk concludes: “Anyone dare to point out human rights with this situation? In our country, the whole world shouts noisily.”

The video was published in September, following the Sayadaw’s participation in an interfaith gathering in Jerusalem titled “Ancient Traditions Contemporary Realities – A Meeting of Israel-Asia Faith Leaders”, which was hosted by the Israeli foreign ministry and AJC.

The influential monk’s comments are frightening to some Rohingya supporters.

The Amsterdam-based EU Rohingya Council tweeted on Monday: 

The Council told Coconuts Yangon: “Sitagu monk is extremely racist and toxic. He has been promoting hate and islamophobia in Myanmar. He is one of the most powerful monks – if not the most powerful – in Myanmar. In the video, what he means is that Muslims in Myanmar should be confined and fenced with razor blade wires like pigs and bulls similar to what Israel does to Palestinians and Arabs, which he witnessed during his visit to Israel. He meant to say that nobody dares to point out Israel for doing so; however, when we do in Myanmar, there is a lot of noise. His promotion of racism and Islamophobia is disgusting, nauseating and must be condemned.”

M-Media offers a different analysis, saying the monk implicitly admits that Myanmar is guilty of the same human rights abuses against Muslims as Israel perpetrates against the Palestinians.

However, what is most evident in Sitagu Sayadaw’s comments is that he is somehow unaware of the torrent of international condemnation Israel has received over its human rights abuses over several decades.

Since its inception in 2006, the UN Human Rights Council has directed more than 45 percent of its country-specific resolutions at Israel. The UN Security Council has passed 226 resolutions related to Israel, largely expressing concern or condemning Israel over documented violations of human rights.

The volume of condemnations Israel the has received over its human rights record has even been appropriated as aweapon by some Israel supporters to delegitimize the UN, with some claiming the focus on Israel is fuelled by antisemitism. This view gained even more traction when outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the UN’s focus on Israel is “disproportionate”.

The Security Council has passed no resolutions against Myanmar. In 2007, a resolution that “would have called on Myanmar’s Government to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions and begin a substantive political dialogue that would lead to a genuine democratic transition” was vetoed by China and Russia.

According to M-Media, Sitagu Sayadaw also mocked claims of genocide against the Rohingya in 2012, saying: “Just a hundred or two hundred were killed. Who says that is genocide? Many people are out there.”

If Israel and Myanmar are committing the same crimes against their Muslim populations, as the Sayadaw implies, it is Myanmar’s that could use some more recognition. Even human rights advocates in Israel seem to know this.

The Irrawaddy reported yesterday that the Israeli Defense Ministry rejected a request from an Israeli human rights lawyer to stop weapons exports to Myanmar. The request on December 11 cited Myanmar’s wars against ethnic minorities and its serious human rights violations against the Rohingya.

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