April 24 will mark the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and the Armenian government is holding an international conference in the capital of Yerevan, dedicated to the memory of the more than a million Armenians murdered by the Turks. I was also invited, and I decided to attend. This month will also see the Hebrew publication of Prof. Yair Auron's eye-opening and stomach churning book, "Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide," Maba Publishing, which has already been highly praised overseas in its English-language edition.
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As opposed to many other nations, Israel has never recognized the murder of the Armenian people, and in effect lent a hand to the deniers of that genocide. Our official reactions moved in the vague, illusory realm between denial to evasion, from "it's not clear there really was genocide" to "it's an issue for the historians," as Shimon Peres once put it so outrageously and stupidly.
There are two main motives for the Israeli position. The first is the importance of the relationship with Turkey, which for some reason continues to deny any responsibility for the genocide, and uses heavy pressure worldwide to prevent the historical responsibility for the genocide to be laid at its door. The pressure does work, and not only Israel, but other countries as well do the arithmetic of profits and loss. The other motive is that recognition of another nation's murder would seem to erode the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust.
Five years ago, on the 85th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, I was invited as education minister to the Armenian church in the Old City of Jerusalem. This is what I said at the time:
"I am here, with you, as a human being, as a Jew, as an Israeli, and as the minister of education in Israel. For many years, too many, you were alone on this, your memorial day. I am aware of the special significance of my presence here. Today, for the first time, you are less alone."
I recalled the Jewish American ambassador to Turkey at the time of the slaughter, Henry Morgenthau, who called the massacre of the Armenians "the greatest crime of modern history." That good man had no idea what would yet happen in the 20th century - who could have anticipated the Jewish Holocaust? And I recalled Franz Werfel's "The 40 Days of Musa Dagh," which came out in Germany in the spring of 1933 and shocked millions of people and eventually, me, too, as a youth.
Summing up, I said, "We Jews, the main victims of murderous hatred, must be doubly sensitive and identify with other victims. Those who stand aside, turn away, cast a blind eye, make their calculations of gains and losses, and are silent, always help the murderers and never those who are being murdered. In our new history curriculum I want to see a central chapter on genocide, and within it, an open reference to the Armenian genocide. That is our duty to you and to ourselves."
The Armenian community in Israel and the world took note of that statement with satisfaction. Turkey complained vociferously, demanding an explanation from the Israeli government. And "my government," of all governments, first stammered and then denied responsibility, and explained that I spoke for myself. And not a remnant survives in the new curriculum of the Livnat era.
Now it can be said. They were right. All the stammerers and deniers. I really did not consult with anyone else and did not ask for permission. What must be asked when the answer is known in advance, and it is based on the wrong assumption that there is a contradiction between a moral position and a political one? Just how beastly must we be as humans, or as Haaretz wrote then in its editorial, "The teaching of genocides must be at the top of the priorities of the values of the Jewish people, the victim of the Holocaust, and no diplomacy of interests can be allowed to stand in that way"?
The Israeli Foreign Ministry, and not only it, is always afraid of its own shadow and thus it casts a dark shadow over us all as accomplices to the "silence of the world." The Dalai Lama, leader of the exiled Tibetans, has visited here twice, and twice I was warned by "officials" not to meet with him. It would mean a crisis in relations with China, the exact same thing they say about Turkey. I rebuffed those warnings in both cases. I have always believed that moral policies pay off in the long run, while rotten policies end up losing.
And all this I will repeat in the capital of Armenia, only in my name, of course.