Israel is a country tugged by two forces, as far as Armenia is concerned. One force is the memory of the Jewish genocide of the 1940s, which is commemorated annually in a national holiday; the second is the need for alliances in the Mideast so that Israel doesn't get suddenly swamped by someone else's military. One of those alliances happens to be with Turkey, and because of the nagging ghosts of the Holocaust and the desires for friendship with the genocide-denier government of Turkey, Israel often finds itself in a bind.
Israel - The Ambivalent Player
By Matthew Karanian
Armenian International Magazine
May 2000 - Volume 11, No. 5
Turkey's continued denials of the Armenian Genocide are growing tiresome to many Western governments. The latest expression of this weariness came from Israel on April 24, when a state minister expressly affirmed that the events of 1915 were genocide against the Armenian nation.
But instead of calling on Turkey to admit to the crimes of its Ottoman forbears, the cabinet minister-Israel's Minister of Education, no less-advocated that Israel's schools include the Armenian Genocide in its curriculum. Turkey demanded a clarification, and it got one. But the clarification from Israel was a deliberately worded response that did not expressly retract the minister's statement.
The episode was an embarrassment to Turkey, but it is not expected to sour Israeli-Turkish relations, or to have an affect on Armenia's relations with either of the countries. The diplomatic row occurred after Israel's Minister of Education Yossi Sarid accepted an invitation from the Armenians to speak at a memorial gathering on April 24 in Jerusalem. Armenians commemorate the Genocide each year on this day. Sarid told the crowd "As Minister of Education of the State of Israel, …I will do everything in order that Israeli children learn and know about the Armenian Genocide."
On the following day, Israeli Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin said the events of 1915 "cannot be defined except as genocide." Beilin's comments were brief and less detailed than Sarid's, and they reiterated Sarid's main point about genocide. But Beilin's words were not merely cumulative, because of Beilin's political affiliation. Beilin is a member of the Prime Minister's ruling party. Sarid is in the opposition.
Israel's Charge d'Affaires in Turkey, Moshe Kamhi, clarified their comments after receiving a demand from Turkey. He told the Turks that the two ministers' statements are their personal opinions, and do not reflect the government's policies. The tempered reply was apparently intended to be sensitive to the world's Armenians without causing further annoyance to Turkey. But it failed to have that effect.
A leader in the Armenian-American community in Washington, DC said the official clarification from Israel was offensive to Armenians. And the Turkish government rejected the explanation as inadequate. Turkey demanded that Israel issue a "satisfactory" statement, and it demonstrated its anger by refusing to attend a recent diplomatic event that had been sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Ankara.
Israel had not issued any further comments as of late May.
An Unlikely Partnership
Turkey and Israel have been nurturing a cordial relationship in recent years. Turkey's interest in this partnership is, at least in part, to obtain Israeli technology and to receive a share of Israel's military expertise. Israel's interest is to enlist Turkey's assistance in containing their mutual Arab foes.
As an apparent condition for this relationship, Turkey has insisted that Israel maintain a policy that the events of 1915 should be discussed among historians, and not politicians.
Israel's clarification said that it was sticking to this "policy," which had been adopted in 1995. An official of the Armenian National Institute (ANI), however, says that Israel's reply comes close to affirming the Genocide. Rouben Adalian, the Project Director of the ANI in Washington, DC, points to what the Israeli clarification did not say. "They don't deny the remarks. There's been no retraction, and they don't disavow the statements. Therein lies the difference," he says. Israel merely says, officially, that its "policy" of allowing historians to discuss the events of 1915 has not changed.
Adalian also suggests that there's more to the matter. "No cabinet minister would go out on a limb and say something like that [that the Armenians were victims of a genocide] without some sanction or approval," says Adalian.
A genocide scholar from Israel who is familiar with each of the ministers disputes this hypothesis. The scholar, Israel Charny, says there is no reason to suspect that the ministers' statements are anything more than their own personal words, and no basis for speculation that the government of Israel is signaling a shift in diplomacy. "Sarid did not discuss or clear his wonderful performance with any government leader," says Charny. "I pray that there is a change [in Israel's official position on the Armenian genocide]," says Charny. "But I have seen nothing, heard nothing, from any public or private source to suggest that there is."
Charny is a Professor of Psychology at Tel Aviv University, and a leading scholar on genocide and the Holocaust. He has written extensively on the subject, and he is also the editor-in-chief of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide (ABC-Clio, 1999) which is a comprehensive reference work with major sections not just on the Jewish Holocaust, but also on the Armenian Genocide, as well as on Denial of Genocide and the Comparative Study of the Genocides of All Peoples.
Because of his history of involvement in this area, he is in a position to know whether a change in Israeli policy had intentionally been signaled. Charny was the organizer of a Tel Aviv conference in 1982 when the Turkish government pressured Israel to disinvite the participants scheduled to speak on the Armenian Genocide. Charny refused despite the implied threat about the safety of Jews escaping Iran through Turkey. Charny made his comments during a telephone interview with AIM.
A Giant Step Forward
Regardless of Israel's official stance, however, the statements of Sarid and Beilin illustrate a growing unofficial resistance in Israel to Turkey's continued denials. This is a "giant step forward" for Israel. "On a cultural level, in terms of the country's press and media, and in reflections of public opinion, there definitely is a corrective process going on," says Charny.
Adalian is more blunt. This is evidence, he says, that Turkey's "intimidating methods are building some resistance." In other words, there's a backlash against Turkey's heavy-handed denials. "I see it all over."
Beilin, the Justice Minister, had said that "[s]omething happened that cannot be defined except as genocide. One-and-a-half million people disappeared. It wasn't negligence. It was deliberate.
"[W]e must clarify to the Turks that we cannot accept their political demands to ignore a historical event."
Beilin's comments had been reported in Ha'aretz, the Israeli Daily newspaper. He had been motivated to make the statement by his "impeccable integrity, moral coherence," says Charny. "He's from the government party, and yet he spoke!"
Sarid, the Education Minister, said during his comments that he had been deeply moved by the epic account of one battle during the genocide, as portrayed in Franz Werfel's 1933 novel "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh." He called the book a masterpiece, and said that it shocked millions of people. "For me and for many youngsters my generation in Israel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh had a formative effect on our personality and our world outlook. "Today in Israel, very few youngsters have heard about Musa Dagh, very few know about the Armenian Genocide…. As Minister of Education of the State of Israel, I will do whatever is in my capacity in order that this monumental work, 'The Forty Days of Musa Dagh' is once more well known to our children.
"I would like to see a central chapter on genocide [in the school curriculum], on this huge and inhuman atrocity. The Armenian Genocide should occupy a prominent place in this program, which does justice to the national and personal memory of every one of you, to the memory of all the members of your nation. This is our obligation to you; this is our obligation to ourselves."
Charny frames the issue not merely as a moral obligation, but also as one that strikes at the heart of Israel's national interest. Turkey's denials perpetuate the genocide, he says. And, by involving Israel, Turkey implicates Israel not just in wrongly denying the Armenian Genocide, but also in covertly supporting those who deny the Holocaust.
This "policy of pressure" has been applied against Israel "to the point of extortion," he says. In the short run, it may benefit Israel to placate the Turks. But in the long run, this appeasement could put Jews and Armenians at risk of continued genocide, he says.
"It's a trap," which Charny says he is optimistic about avoiding. Why the optimism?
Israel's leaders are "already taking positions we didn't see in years past," he says.
"Israelis are becoming more aware."
The state of Israel does not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, despite the fact that the Jews themselves were victims of a similiar genocide for which Adolf Hitler himself used the Armenian massacres as an example. Many righteous Jews detest this stance of the Jewish state, and a number of prominent politicians, historians and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger publicly speak of the Armenian Genocide.
Israel Parliament Rejects Armenian Genocide Bill
Israel's parliament on March 14, 2007 rejected a motion recognizing the Turkish mass killings of Armenians dating back to 1915 as a genocide.
"Stop ignoring and rejecting the catastrophe of another people," MP Haim Oron, who submitted the motion, told the plenum before the vote.
"We refuse to accept the turning of a blind eye to the Armenian genocide," the opposition left-wing Meretz party MP said. "We owe this vote not only to the Armenian people, we owe it to ourselves, especially in a period where we are struggling to prolong the memory" of the Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews during World War II.
The motion was nevertheless rejected by parliament in a vote of 16 against 12, with a low turnout by MPs. It would have needed a second ratification if it had passed.
The issue of the Armenian massacre has been raised several times in the past in Israel's Knesset, but there has never been an implicit vote branding it as genocide. If approved, Israel would have joined a growing list of countries which have recognized the killings as genocide. It would have marked April 24, the day when the massacres started in 1915, as Armenian genocide memorial day.
Israel has close diplomatic ties with Turkey -- one of the few Muslim countries with which it has relations -- and has in the past steered clear of the recognition issue.
Oron told AFP he had been under heavy pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office and the foreign ministry to withdraw his motion. "I have been under a lot of pressure, but that is something any MP must face," Oron said. "Turkey has been exerting its pressure everywhere. This is their right. But they can not set the agenda of the Israeli parliament."
Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said that Israel "did not intend to place itself at the forefront of this issue, which is being handled by the international community."
Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance
$200 million complex designed by architect Frank Gehry under construction.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has come under fire since it announced plans to build a museum of tolerance in Jerusalem and laid the cornerstone last year, with the help of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The international organisation's mission is to combat anti-Semitism, racism, terrorism and genocide.
Critics have protested that a museum dedicated to remembering and preventing racial and cultural hatred should be more inclusive of other local histories, like those of the Armenians and Palestinians.
In deference to complaints by Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the new museum will not focus on this historical chapter.
"If there is a tolerance museum in Jerusalem, it should be a world example for multi-culturalism and coexistence," says Mr Ellenblum.
Wiesenthal officials declined to comment.
Art Newspaper, UK - Jan 26 2006