The Banality of Indifference

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Cover of the book.
Armenians demonstrate in Jerusalem in memory of the Armenian Genocide. (April 24)

The genocide of Armenians by Turks during the First World War was one of the most horrendous deeds of modern times and a precursor of the genocidal acts that have marked the rest of the twentieth century. Despite the worldwide attention the atrocities received at the time, the massacre has not remained a part of the world's historical consciousness. The parallels between the Jewish and Armenian situations and the reactions of the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv) to the Armenian genocide are explored by Yair Auron.Auron raises theoretical, philosophical, and moral questions about concepts of genocide and the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Following a brief survey of Armenian history and the events leading up to the massacre, Auron discusses the reaction within the Yishuv in terms of practical assistance for and identification with the Armenians. The Jewish position was unquestionably difficult during the period of the First World War; Palestine was under Ottoman control, and Germany, a Turkish ally, was looked to by some Zionists as a potential source of support. Consequently, the official Yishuv reaction was muted and largely self-interested: there were no condemnations in journals, internal protocols, or letters. Auron records instances of support: the Nili group, an underground intelligence organization, actively sought to aid the Armenian victims; Chaim Weizman and Nahum Sokolov publicly condemned the killings; and other Zionist writers and journalists expressed outraged identification with the Armenians and tried to arouse the conscience of the world. In attempting to assess and interpret these disparate reactions, Auron maintains a fairminded balance in assessing claimsof altruism and self-interest, expressed in universal, not merely Jewish, terms.While not denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust, Auron carefully distinguishes it from the Armenian genocide, reviewing existing theories and relating Armenian and Jewish experience to ongoing issues of politics and identity. As a groundbreaking work of comparative history, The Banality of Indifference will be read by Armenian area specialists, historians of Zionism and Israel, and students of genocide.

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