Archive for the ‘Jews and Armenian Genocide’ Category

Mark Arax, the Armenian Genocide, and the Jews

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

Mark Arax likes to write about conflict among Jews. Last year he published a piece in which he blended a tendentious and distorted view of Fresno’s Jewish community (Victor Davis Hanson and Bruce Thornton called it a ‘caricature’) with what can only be called harassment of a family bereaved by the war in Iraq.

Now he’s written an article which apparently discusses the ‘split’ in the Jewish community over a congressional resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide. I say ‘apparently’ because he’s embroiled in a controversy with the Times, which does not wish to run the article. But never mind — is there a ‘split’ in the Jewish community over this issue?

Jewish voices opposed to the genocide resolution are a small minority. The resolution’s author, Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), is Jewish. Many synagogues and Jewish organizations have expressed support for it, despite lobbying by the Turkish government, which has even hired a lobbyist to work with the Jewish community:

“How can we, the people decimated by the Holocaust, stand on the sidelines?” asked Rabbi Harold Schulweis [of the huge Valley Beth Shalom congregation in Encino]. “Perhaps if the world had stood up against the first genocide of the 20th century against the Armenians, the Holocaust might have been prevented…

In 2004, Schulweis channeled his demand for action against world genocides by founding Jewish World Watch, focusing first on the ongoing massacres in Darfur. This year, the nonprofit was organized well enough to expand its reach, sponsoring a joint commemoration of “the 92nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide” at Shulweis’ [synagogue]…

Schiff noted that his resolution, now under consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee… is co-sponsored by 21 out of 30 Jewish representatives and by eight out of 13 Jewish senators in a companion resolution. He acknowledged that he is under considerable pressure by the Bush administration and by former fellow legislators now working for the Turkish lobby, which Schiff described as “one of the most powerful” in Washington.

But a few Jewish groups have opposed the resolution:

[Rep. Schiff] admonished the American Jewish Committee (AJ Committee), B’nai B’rith International, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which had jointly transmitted to House leaders a letter from the organized Jewish Community of Turkey.

In the letter, addressed to the AJCommittee, the Turkish Jewish leaders expressed their concern that the Schiff resolution “has the clear possibility of potentially endangering the interests of the United States” by straining Turkey’s relations with Washington and Israel.

JINSA supported the letter’s view, while the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted ADL National Director Abraham Foxman as stating that “I don’t think congressional action will reconcile the issue. The resolution takes a position, it comes to a judgment.” — Tom Tugend, Jewish Journal

Why would they hold this view, opposed to that of most other Jewish Americans?

These groups received the letter in question from a delegation of Turkish Jews who visited the US at the time of the AIPAC convention and ‘voluntarily’ asked Jewish leaders to pass on their concern that the passage of the resolution would not be good for Turkish Jews.

Do you think these Jews, led by Turkish Jewish community president Silvyo Ovadya, decided to take this step by themselves? Were they perhaps encouraged to do so by the Turkish government? What would be the likely reaction of the Turkish government if they returned home with no results?

As I wrote on May 3, it’s likely that the US Jewish organizations above, by passing on the letter as requested, protected Turkish Jews from possible reprisals. Especially since the new ‘moderate’ Islamist regime has come to power in Turkey, the position of Turkish Jews has been uncomfortable.

Much of the buzz around this incident seems to be an attempt to exaggerate the importance of it — and to suggest that Jews oppose the resolution because of their support for Israel. But the state of Israel has no interest in a resolution about Turkey passed by the US Congress, which is unlikely to have any effect whatever on Israel. And the ‘strategic’ relationship between Israel and Turkey is not so great lately either.

So why should Arax and others want to drive a wedge between American Jews and Armenians? Because the real target is Israel and her supporters.

Arax is a subtle guy. He lets others do his talking. Let me present a snippet from his “Not so Civil War” article. When you read this excerpt — in which Arax quotes two good friends of mine, incidentally — ask yourself “what does Mark Arax think about the relationship between Israel and our war in Iraq?

The Iraq war, [Barry Price] said, had put temple lefties in a bind, raising questions they weren’t keen to address. Was the decision to topple Saddam Hussein motivated in part by America’s devotion to Israel? Was it relevant that several of the neoconservatives who pushed hardest for war inside the Bush-Cheney administration—top defense aides Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith and consultant Richard Perle—were Jews who had worked for years to marry the security concerns of the U.S. and Israel? Feith, for one, had been honored by the Zionist Organization of America for his contributions as a “pro-Israel activist.”

“It was the one topic that people were most afraid to touch,” Price said. “The progressives in the temple had ceded the field to the vocal Jews on the right. We were cowed into silence.”

Sitting in his office in his khakis and tennis shoes, brow furrowed and head cocked, [Stuart] Weil now wondered if I might be betraying some prejudice for even raising the idea that a love of Israel had motivated the Jewish war hawks in the White House. “Is that how your liberal friends talk when you’re together?” he asked, eyes narrowing. He rejected the notion as a new version of the old canard that Jews operated with dual loyalties. The term “neoconservative” had become a liberal code word for “Zionist,” he believed. If the neoconservatives got us into war, the translation read: “The Jews did it.”

I think that Weil had it nailed, and I think that Arax is trying to make a very similar point this time, that Jews are ‘split’ because some of them prefer supporting Israel over opposing genocide. This is, though, an entirely false dichotomy. American Jews — even strong supporters of Israel — overwhelmingly identify with the Armenians in their struggle to force Turkey to accept the historical truth of the Genocide. Israel did not cause the US to invade Iraq, and Israel is not using US Jews to help the Turks hide their crimes.

I don’t think his first article made Arax a lot of friends in Fresno’s Jewish community. Maybe Doug Frantz, the LA Times’ Managing Editor, saved him from losing whatever few he has left by pulling his latest one.

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Many Jews support Armenian Genocide resolution

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

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.

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