The ADL and the Armenian Genocide

Recently I wrote about attending a lecture by a Holocaust denier at a local church. It was upsetting to listen to the speaker’s repeated statements that yes, a lot of Jews died, it was war after all, but there was no concerted effort on the part of Hitler and the Nazis to wipe out the Jewish people.

The speaker had an answer for everything, and it’s impossible to respond to every ‘fact’ that someone can invent. It takes painstaking research, and by that time they have invented another ‘fact’. So even though historical facts — this happened or it didn’t — are absolutely true or false, there is no absolute proof in history the way there is in mathematics.

But after a while the weight of the evidence, the preponderance of the research, becomes so overwhelming that we can say that we know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that such-and-such did occur. At this point, ‘revisionist’ history stops being constructive, and we need to look for motives behind it other than a disinterested search for truth. This is the way it is with the Holocaust.

And this is the way it is for the Armenian Genocide.

Which brings me to Watertown Massachusetts, where local Armenians are asking the city to remove itself from an ADL program (“No Place for Hate”) because the ADL does not take a position on the Armenian Genocide and lobbied against a congressional resolution calling on the US to recognize it:

[ADL director Abraham] Foxman said he is surprised that he has become a target of Armenians. The ADL, a group founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, has no official position on the Armenian genocide, he said.

“I’m not going to be the arbiter of someone else’s history,” he said in the interview, adding that he does not believe that Congress should either. When asked specifically if what happened to Armenians under the Ottoman Empire was genocide, he replied, “I don’t know.” The ADL only takes positions, he said, on current events, not on something that happened in the past.

Many groups oppose the resolution, including of course the Turkish Republic — although the resolution makes it quite clear that the guilty party was the Ottoman Empire. However, general international recognition of the genocide might make it possible for Armenians to claim compensation from Turkey. Turkey has applied pressure in many directions, including that of the US State Department which is concerned about Turkey’s relations with the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the State of Israel which sees Turkey as its only Muslim ‘ally’ (although in my view it’s a pretty poor ally).

It’s also possible that the ADL was influenced by an implied threat to the Turkish Jewish community.

Nevertheless, Foxman’s position is not supportable:

“You would never ever say that about the genocide in Darfur; you would never ever say that about the Holocaust,” said [Sharistan] Melkonian. “You need to stop genocide anywhere you can, and the only way to stop genocide in the future is to acknowledge that it happened.” — Boston Globe

It is contradictory for the ADL to oppose Holocaust denial vigorously, as it should, while refusing to take a position on another historically documented genocide.

And it doesn’t set a good precedent, either, in a practical sense. Today, pseudo-historical revisionism is being used by Israel’s enemies to claim that Jews dispossessed Palestinian Arabs unfairly from their lands, that Israel engineered the war in 1967 for expansionist motives, etc.

The ADL is wrong about this issue and should change its position.

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