"This is my duty as a Jew and as an Israeli" is cliche that is meant to revive anyone from their dogmatic coma. Each time this religious-nationalist conjunction is used, accompanied by a certain obligation, usually moral, the listener must assume that behind the pomposity and the drama hides some shame that is seeking to be retroactively erased.
So as not to remain in the theoretical sphere, let's examine the full statement made by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Monday after he decided to hold an annual Knesset session to mark the Armenian genocide by the Turks. "It is my duty as a Jew and as an Israeli," he said, "to recognize the tragedies of other peoples. Diplomatic considerations, important as they may be, do not allow us to deny the disaster of another people."
Rivlin made the statement about a week after the Knesset allowed its Education Committee to discuss the issue for the first time publicly, and about a year after former Meretz chairman and MK Haim Oron was authorized to hold a secret meeting about it in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. That, more or less, is how under the pretense "my duty as a Jew and an Israeli," 63 years of Jewish disregard for and denial of the slaughter of between 1 million to 1.5 million human beings just melts away.
And so, Rivlin decided that: "Diplomatic considerations, important as they may be, do not allow us to deny the disaster of another people." He's right, and every molecule of that rightness conceals a nucleus of the ridiculous. After all, diplomatic considerations, as important as they may be, did indeed allow us, that is, the government of Israel, to deny the disaster of another people for 63 years. Diplomatic considerations, important as they may be, for 63 years, prevented the state's leaders, from the indicted Ehud Olmert to the television star Shimon Peres - from discussing the matter, not to mention officially marking the genocide.
Rivlin needed a cliche precisely because as Jews and Israelis, we were partners to a moral injustice of historic proportions. He inflated the words to cover up a spindly moral reality. After all, Rivlin also knows that if we have to sum up in one phrase the reason for this moral redress, it would be a small and trivial one: the unraveling of our ties with Turkey. We are now able to discuss the murder of 1.5 million people because of political-diplomatic circumstances, and not because 1.5 million people were murdered. What common sense and dictates of conscience did not do, was accomplished by a ship by the name of the Mavi Marmara and statements by a politician named Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Discussion of the Armenian genocide permits scrutiny of the relationship between morality and diplomacy in Israel. Instead of ethical considerations trumping political ones as the foundation for policy, it turns out that morality is nothing but a derivative of politics, an appendage of narrow national interests. The dictate of the national conscience is the outcome of whatever we can get in exchange.
Moral flexibility is not a one-time position having to do only with the Armenian genocide. One and a half million people are never a one-time matter and silence over their murder cannot be perceived as coincidental.
In fact, the change in attitude toward the Armenian genocide should be seen as an indication of an overriding Israeli principle that says: Good is what is worthwhile, bad is what is not worthwhile. A codicil to this principle is: Good can always become bad; bad can always become good. A moral calculation as a derivative of cost-efficiency is, in fact, the true duty of every "Jew and Israeli."
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