An op-ed in today’s Fresno Bee gives the impression that the Jewish community as a whole is opposed to a Congressional resolution that recognizes the Armenian Genocide. Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers write:
One of the last surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Simha “Kazik” Rotem, once said that the central lesson of the Holocaust to him was that the Jewish people should stand vigilant against genocidal acts directed at any people.
This is why it is troubling that some major Jewish organizations have lined up in support of Turkey’s efforts to keep the U.S. Congress from recognizing the Armenian massacres as an act of genocide.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and B’nai B’rith International recently conveyed a letter from the Turkish Jewish community opposing a resolution recognizing the genocide.
The ADL and the JINSA also added their own statements of opposition, suggesting that the massacre of Armenians was a matter for historians, not legislators, to decide.
However, many Jews have an entirely different opinion. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, a Jewish Democratic congressman from California.
Schiff says the resolution reflects the historical reality. He notes that Raphael Lemkin, a Jew who coined the term “genocide” in 1943 to describe Nazi actions against Jews, cited the Armenian massacres as a precedent.
The historical parallels between the two events help explain the Jewish community’s reluctance to back the Turkish effort to stop Schiff’s resolution.
Off the record, Jewish officials say a community struggling to stem the tide of Holocaust revisionism is hardly in a position to endorse efforts to deny what Lemkin and other Holocaust chroniclers have described as the Holocaust’s antecedent. — JTA
Sokatch and Myers give several reasons that Jews might be sympathetic to Turkey:
Jewish opposition to recognizing the Armenian genocide comes mainly from a desire to safeguard the strategic relationship between Turkey and Israel. Alone among the world’s Muslim nations, Turkey has forged close military, political and economic ties with Israel.
In addition, Jews remember with a deep sense of gratitude that Turkey served as an important haven for their forebears fleeing persecution, from the time of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 to the dark days of Nazism and beyond.
I strongly doubt that many Jews remember 1492. More likely they remember the difficulties the Ottoman Empire placed in the way of Jewish immigration to Palestine in the early years of the 20th Century.
In the Nazi era, the Turkish consul-general in Rhodes, Selahattin Ulkumen, saved a number of Jews by his personal intervention, at some risk. However Turkey itself stayed neutral during the war, so Jews in Turkey were not at risk for deportation by the Nazis.
Last year, Turkey severely strained relations with Israel by becoming the second non-Arab country to invite Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal for a visit. Prior to this, the Turkish PM had accused Israel of “sponsoring state terrorism against the Palestinians”.
A more likely reason that the various Jewish organizations transmitted the letter from Turkish Jews was that the Turkish Jews were under pressure from the Turkish government:
Significantly, a Jewish community delegation led by community president Silvyo Ovadya was one of five delegations arriving in Washington this year. The Turkish Jews came on their own initiative; other delegations included three separate groups of parliamentarians and an entourage led by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
The Jewish delegation, whose visit coincided with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy forum in March, warned U.S. Jewish leaders that passage of the resolution would harm Turkey’s Western tilt and could make things uncomfortable for the country’s Jews. — JTA (my emphasis)
I therefore think that it’s a little disingenuous to write that the Jewish organizations were “lining up in support of Turkey’s efforts” to keep the Congress from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Rather, they were acting to protect the Turkish Jews from reprisals by acceding to their request to pass the letter on. They were not speaking — and can not speak — as representatives of American Jews.
Legitimate historians are in agreement about the truth of the Armenian Genocide. I’m confident that the great majority of American Jews would agree with Rep. Schiff and with me and urge the US Congress to pass the measure recognizing the Armenian Genocide.