Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Adolf Hitler

I write from Lisbon, where I was surprised yesterday to see the government monument pictured above acknowledging the murder of two thousand Jewish people for "deicide and heresy."

And then, coincidentally, I saw that Andy Tarsy has written a thoughtful article at Tablet, called "Why Jewish Organizations Must Stop Denying the Armenian Genocide."  About 1.5 million Armenians were killed by those working under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire.

It's not the first time Andy has set forth opinions on this subject. The last time cost him his job as regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

It is remarkable, and sad, to me, that there is still a need for Andy to make this case.  I supported him back in 2007, and do so again.  In his article, he appropriately pulls no punches:

National Jewish organizations in the United States have played a dangerous game for decades, giving safe harbor to denial of the Armenian Genocide. As its 100th anniversary arrives on April 24, there is an opportunity to turn the page on a dismal chapter of Jewish American history.

The bar is set higher now than simply uttering a particular word or posting a statement to a website. Jewish leaders and organizations have to demonstrate that they recognize the humanity of Armenian people who still live in the long shadow of genocide. These families have been robbed of everything they built and earned in centuries of cultural continuity. Their injuries are compounded by Turkish denial and the complicity of those who could be allies, including ourselves.

Over the past three decades, various national Jewish leaders have urged Armenians to address their need for validation by taking up the matter with the Republic of Turkey itself. Imagine Jews being told to do the same with Germans. Jewish leaders have made public comments that deliberately provide cover for those who willfully undermine the truth; and in our name, they habitually advocate against congressional efforts to acknowledge the genocide. Some even take steps to exclude the Armenian story from genocide education curriculums and Holocaust commemoration events.

The American Jewish community would be wise to retire two morally and strategically bankrupt imperatives that have contributed mightily to this morass.

The first of these feckless imperatives is that anything said to be necessary for Israel’s safety and Jewish security can be justified without rigorous and transparent analysis. The days of deference to the individual judgments of national leaders on issues of strategic importance have to end, no matter how experienced those leaders are.

A second imperative we must fully let go of is that the Holocaust has to be insulated from comparison and even commemoration alongside other catastrophic crimes like the Armenian Genocide. As media outlets have reported, the Anti-Defamation League has for decades had a policy prohibiting its regional offices from participating in Holocaust-related events jointly with organizations focused on the Armenian Genocide. If the ban has been lifted, there is certainly no evidence of the organization moving beyond it today. Holocaust museums and genocide-studies programs have crossed this bridge already. They have rigorous methods for managing the analysis responsibly, and there is no sign of damage to any of the important histories that need to be remembered.


Susannah said...

There have been more events of genocide in history, including recent history, than even a well-intentioned person like me can easily keep track of. I fault myself for not trying harder. But to learn that some Jewish leaders resist including the slaughter of other peoples in the discussion of the Holocaust (notice how we still capitalize this) is just horrible. Why is the mass killing of Jews considered more important than the destruction of Armenians, Bosnians, Cambodians, Darfurians, Native Americans, Rwandans....? (And I know I have missed a lot) Are we Jews more valuable, truer human beings than all these other people? Terrible to learn that representatives of a persecuted people could act in a way that implies such a perspective. Thank you, Paul, for bringing this to our attention.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your message. I was unaware of the Armenian genocide until I read the book Sand Castle Girls by Chris Bohjalian,

Nancy Thomas said...

The students at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy & Global Studies at UMass Boston (where my daughter graduated) have an incredible opportunity to learn about global issues such as this - how fortunate they are to have someone of Tarsy's perspective to learn from...