Saturday, March 06, 2010

Opposing Genocide? Is There Nothing Jews Won't Resort To?

A London-based Arabic newspaper is alleging that -- quelle surprise -- the Jewish lobby is behind the recent vote by a House committee to recognize the Armenian genocide by the Turks. The claim is that pro-Israel groups, which had previously backed Turkey on the issue, switched in retaliation for Turkey's vitriolic condemnation of Israel in the wake of Cast Lead.

As someone who was extremely critical of the ambivalence of Jewish organizations on this issue, I still have to call BS. First, there is virtually no evidence that Jewish organizations are the causal players here. Second, to the extent that there is a link between Turkey's relationship with Israel and America's decisions regarding the Armenian genocide, it's one that Turkey created when it threatened to hold hostage its relationship with Israel unless American Jews backed off on the issue. There's a difference between Jews nefariously embarrassing Turkey for being bold truthsayers regarding Gaza, and Jews taking the clearly correct and moral stance that they were hitherto deterred from due to Turkey's (now expended) threats regarding its diplomatic stances toward Israel.

That being said, my position remains the same as ever. Jewish organizations, same as everyone else, have an obligation to be truth-tellers on this issue. Aside from the necessity of doing justice to the victims, it does not bode well for the Jewish community if the historical fact of genocide is considered to be a legitimate political football.

1 comment:

N. Friedman said...


Of course, in the real world, you are absolutely correct. Jewish friends of Israel did not cause Congress to do anything regarding the Armenia resolution. In fact, it is my understanding that they were conspicuously absent from the debate.

That, however, is not how these things are understood by some of Turkey's friends. Their view is that Jewish friends of Israel have an obligation - a moral obligation if not a quasi legal a quid pro quo - to support Turkey's efforts to block recognition of the Armenian genocide in exchange for support for Israel. And, obviously, Arab groups who wish Israel and Jews no good and who see an opportunity to stick more knives into the current dispute between Israel and Turkey have good reason to blame Jews.

Israel's friends, of course, recall that Turkey has not been all that nice, as of late, to Israel. As such, if my information on this is accurate, they chose not to assist Turkey's efforts. That may well have had some impact on Congress.

Be that as it may, the realpolitik that, until recently, prevailed among Jewish friends of Israel regarding the Armenian genocide is, I think, rather shortsighted and, in any event, wrong. Of course, resolutions do not bring back the dead. Resolutions do not compensate their families - as if that were really possible to do. However, viewing a fantasy world as if it were truth is a bad thing. And, the Armenian genocide was an unspeakably horrible thing, to say the least.

One has to speculate why Turkey insists so strongly on its view of history. Turks I know, as previously posted, try to place the massacres in context - and some of what they say is not wholly false although, in totality, between factual distortions and omissions, it is basically a self-serving lie.

I can think of a number of possible reasons for Turkey's reticence.

One. Notwithstanding revisionist efforts to cast the genocide as wholly a nationalist matter, the facts are rather incontrovertible that religion was the primary causal factor - as shown by both Professor Vahakn Dadrian's research and his seminal book on the conflict, History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus and in Peter Balakian's book. Moreover, to those who participated in the killings, they did so after receiving religious justification in the form of a fatwa from the highest authority in that period's Islam, declaring Jihad against the Armenians. So, to accept responsibility is to accept that the word of the Almighty can be wrong - a viewpoint with an insufficient following, thus far, even in Turkey.

The second possible reason is that, at the end of WWI, the great father of modern Turkey, Attaturk - and, notwithstanding his role here, he still must be counted among the truly important and great figures of the 20th Century - continued the onslaught against the Armenians, resulting in the deaths of, if I recall correctly, more than 100,000 additional Armenian lives. This onslaught was closer in practice to a military operation but included massacres. Hence, to accept the truth amounts to accepting that modern Turkey also played a role in the genocide.

A third possibility is that, like much of the part of the world in which Turkey is situated, there is not all that much self-criticism currently on offer - as in bad things are always someone else's fault.