I’ve written numerous articles over the past few years about Jews, Israel and the Armenian Genocide. The subject is current yet again, as the Knesset is discussing whether or not Israel should officially recognize it.
My position has always been that the Genocide is a historical fact and should be recognized as such. The US has never done so — during the cold war, Turkey was considered an integral part of the anti-Soviet alliance, and it is still considered by the Obama Administration too important an ally to irritate unnecessarily, despite agitation by Armenians in the US (and to no small extent in Fresno, which is one of the centers of Armenian population in the US).
The US State Department has been happy to suggest that the failure to pass bills calling for recognition has been the fault of the “Israel Lobby.” Last year a local Armenian activist published an op-ed in the Fresno Bee pushing this theory. The article went so far as to say that “the Jewish lobby was complicit” in genocide denial, and since “denial is the last stage of genocide,” in genocide itself.
The Middle East is a complicated place, and there are not just two sides. Iran, Turkey and Egypt all see themselves as replacing the US as the major power in the region. Turkey has aspirations to expand its influence as a Sunni Islamist power, which have put it in conflict with Iran, Hizballah and the Assad regime in Syria. The US may be fooling itself in thinking that Turkey is an ally in this respect. Insofar as it is acting in concert with the US, it is doing so for its own motives. Although Turkey would try to punish the US in some fashion, I doubt there would be any major change in policy if Congress finally passed a bill recognizing the Genocide.
In Israel there are still those who think that the relationship with Turkey can be repaired, although it seems evident that AKP Islamist ideology is moving in the opposite direction. One real concern is for the small Jewish community in Turkey. At the time of one of the previous debates in the US, the Turkish Ambassador suggested that antisemitism in Turkey might get out of control if Israel did not prevent Congress from passing the bill! In addition to the repulsiveness of holding this small mostly elderly community hostage, this plays into the stupid and offensive notion that the “Jewish lobby” has the power to control the US Congress — something that my Armenian activist friend apparently agrees with.
Interestingly, it’s mostly been the Left in both the US and Israel that has called for recognition. Perhaps I’m cynical, but this may change now that Turkey has moved farther on the road to Islamism and hostility to Israel and the US.
Those that take every opportunity to attack Israel find this issue congenial. If Israel does not recognize the Genocide, it’s because of ugly political expediency. If it does, then it’s only to punish the Turks for exposing Israel’s ‘mistreatment’ of the saintly Palestinian Arabs. A particularly offensive position commonly attributed to Jews is that recognition of the Armenian Genocide would diminish the importance of the Jewish Holocaust.
Kenneth Segal, a former rabbi of the local Reform Temple in Fresno once made an effort at rapprochement with the Armenian community and even got a resolution passed at the Reform movement’s biennial convention in 1989. Segal was unsparing in criticizing the state of Israel, as was the Armenian pastor he invited to speak at his temple. Apparently it was not considered possible to recognize that a crime was committed by Turks in 1915 without bashing Israel.
I think that its time for both Israel and the US to put the issue to rest and admit that it is appropriate to use the word ‘genocide’ to describe the policy that brought about the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.
As one member of the Knesset, Ori Orbach, said, “How many times can they recall their ambassador?”
Update [27 Dec 1405]: The Knesset Education Committee decided to end its session without a vote, apparently fearful of Turkish reaction. Very unfortunate.