Recognition of Suffering, Far Too Late

Israel Only Marks Armenian Genocide To Settle Turkey Score

Recognizing a Crime: Israel is only raising the issue of the Armenian genocide now because relations with Turkey are on the rocks. It would be better to say nothing than hypocritically change tack, says Larry Derfner.
getty images
Recognizing a Crime: Israel is only raising the issue of the Armenian genocide now because relations with Turkey are on the rocks. It would be better to say nothing than hypocritically change tack, says Larry Derfner.

By Larry Derfner

Published December 30, 2011, issue of January 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel is definitely making progress on the subject of the Armenian genocide. In late December, during the Knesset’s first ever open-door debate on the issue, nobody was reported to have questioned whether the deliberate killing of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915-’16 should be called a genocide, nor whether the Ottoman Empire was the guilty party, nor whether modern-day Turkey inherited that guilt. For once, all this was taken for granted, as it has been for decades by virtually all historians, notably Holocaust and genocide historians.

“As a people and as a country, we stand and face the whole world with the highest moral demand that Holocaust denial is something human history cannot accept. Therefore, we cannot deny the tragedy of others,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told the Education Committee.

Read Robert Zaretzky’s critical assessment of France’s new law banning denial of the Armenian genocide.

Hear, hear. But this is a far cry from the position taken, for instance, in 2001 by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who told a Turkish newspaper that the Armenian genocide was “a matter for historians to decide,” and that Israel “reject[s] attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations.”

No question, Israel has come a long way. When the U.S. Holocaust Museum opened in 1993, Armenian-Americans lobbying for inclusion of the Armenian genocide were met with a counter campaign organized by Turkish officials and backed, according to museum officials, by the efforts of the Israeli embassy.

For decades, official Israel not only “stood silent” about the Armenian genocide, it deployed the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and other lobbying groups to back up White House efforts to ensure that Congress stood silent, too. As late as 2007, the ADL fired a senior official for challenging Abraham Foxman’s opposition to a move in Congress for recognition of the genocide.

“Frankly, I’m pretty disgusted,” Yehuda Bauer, Israel’s leading Holocaust scholar, told me in 2005, when only a few academics and liberal politicians were speaking out against Israel’s role as blocking back for Turkey’s policy of denial. “I think that my government preferred economic and political relations with Turkey to the truth.”

That was then, but this is now, and now Israel’s relations with Turkey are ice cold, so there’s a lot less to lose by recognizing the Armenian genocide, and a great deal of satisfaction to be gained. “How many times can they recall their ambassador?” Knesset Member Uri Orbach pointed out.

Shameless hypocrisy, that’s the only term for this Israeli spectacle. The Knesset said nothing about the Armenian genocide all those years when Israel wanted to preserve its alliance with Turkey, and now it has the gall to pretend that it’s raising the issue “so that no one in the world will think [genocide] can happen again,” according to Knesset Member Arye Eldad. The only Knesset members who come to this issue with clean hands are those of Meretz, which over the years stood alone among the political parties in demanding recognition of the genocide and Turkey’s culpability for it.

I don’t know whose hypocrisy is worse — the Knesset’s or that of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry, which oppose recognition on the grounds that it will cause more bad blood with Turkey, something Israel doesn’t need. National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror reportedly told Israeli diplomats that now is the time to “reduce tensions with Turkey, not pour more oil on the fire.”

Funny, but over the last two years, this consideration didn’t deter the government from 1) sitting the Turkish ambassador on a low chair to humiliate him in front of the TV cameras; 2) commandeering the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on its way to Gaza, which ended with the killings of nine Turks aboard; 3) refusing to apologize for the killings; and 4) just this last Thursday, canceling a $141 million sale to Turkey of air force intelligence equipment.

Each of those moves was apparently worth deepening the rift with Turkey. But not an attempt to end Israel’s collusion in the denial of the 20th century’s first genocide, whose early disappearance from history was cited by Hitler as proof that he could get away with a genocide of his own.

In the end, though, I agree with the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry: Israel should not do a 180-degree turn and suddenly recognize the Armenian genocide, especially not now. Like this week’s “historic” Knesset hearing, it would be too transparently false, too embarrassing.

Israel has stood silent this long; let it remain silent.

Larry Derfner blogs at +972 magazine.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.