Would Israel Tolerate Calling the Holocaust a 'Massacre?'

In putting our desire to protect our 'ties' with Turkey and Azerbaijan above our willingness to recognize the Armenian Genocide, we in Israel sacrifice basic principle and integrity.

AFP

There is no political or economic situation in which we Israelis – or Jews worldwide – would accept any other nation denying the Holocaust or the full scale of its killings and torture. We would be hurt, insulted, horrified. We would experience the denial as a kind of endorsement, or even repetition of, the degradation our nation suffered in the Holocaust.

The Armenian people are no different. They are hurt, insulted and horrified by the minimization of the Armenian Genocide by our State of Israel.

For many years, they looked up to Israel with great respect and a deep sense of kinship with a people who, like them, suffered a massive genocide. They admired us enormously for our amazing ability to rebuild our vibrant and thriving nation. They, themselves, are just beginning on their path of reconstruction.

Now, although many Armenians continue to admire Israel greatly – both writers of this piece have been awarded the Presidential Gold Medal in Armenia for our contributions to the memory and recognition of the Armenian Genocide – a degree of hate of Israel is mounting. How could the people of the Holocaust fail to extend full recognition to the Armenian Genocide (which, at times, is referred to as the "Armenian Holocaust," especially in Hebrew, such as in one article by an historian in Bar Ilan University Magazine and various press reports)?

Israel has had its "excuses." But would we accept such excuses from a government that denies the Holocaust was genocide?

Moreover, we, the proud people who are not to be led like lambs to humiliation, would look for ways to fight back hard and resolutely.

The history of our denial of the Armenian Genocide casts us in a light of being a manipulative, self-serving and dishonorable people. Justifiably so. It makes us cowards that to protect our once-upon-a-time relationship with Turkey and now to an increasing extent with Azerbaijan – a Muslim, Turkic-speaking state – we have sacrificed basic principle and integrity. Is that the Israel we believe ourselves to be – and want to be?

When the Knesset Education Committee met in June 2012 to consider the unanimous resolution of the Knesset to recognize the Armenian Genocide, almost everyone who spoke – including then-Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin – was firmly and warmly for recognition. There were two parties who were opposed. One was a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Jewish community and the other was the spokesman for our Foreign Ministry. Do you remember how America’s State Department was at the head of the opposition to rescue Jews in the Holocaust and then to recognizing the new State of Israel? The atmosphere in the Education Committee was overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and then suddenly the chairman of the committee, a representative of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party stood up, banged his gavel and announced, “The meeting is now adjourned. I will arrange for a vote in the future.” Not surprisingly, he never arranged the vote.

For many years, the government of Israel did not even allow mention of the Armenian Genocide. The brother of one of the writers of this article, the late poet T. Carmi (Charny), was editor in the 1960s of Ariel, the respected magazine of our Foreign Ministry, of which thousands of copies were published in a number of languages, on glossy paper that was unusually expensive for those days. In a totally innocent article on the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem, there was a passing reference to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide who had found refuge in Jerusalem – the same survivors to whom our current president, Rivlin, emotionally referred to in his address to the United Nations this year on International Holocaust Day. After all the copies of the magazine were printed and bound, this terrible infraction of the sheer mention of the Armenian Genocide led the Foreign Ministry to order the withdrawal of all the copies of the issue so that the one sinful page could be removed.

For many years, the Israeli government literally forbade mention of the Armenian Genocide in our media (until a principled Yaakov Ahimeir took the daring leap, in 1994). During those days, too, there was at least one instance in which the Israel Broadcasting Authority met for a detailed discussion on whether to show a documentary about the Armenian Genocide and voted overwhelmingly to do so, but the next morning then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir exercised his veto power to cancel the broadcast. (Our Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem did show the film in the Cinematheque auditorium with the participation of the legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, the wife of the Russian freedom fighter Andrei Sakharov, the Armenian Patriarch and others).

Our beloved Israel has been shamefully cowardly, unethical, and cheaply self-serving (including on behalf of its highly questionable lucrative arms export businesses). Are we ready now to salvage some of our self-respect and express a full fellowship with the victims of the major genocide that preceded ours, and in fact is known to have contributed a good deal to the subsequent execution of the Holocaust?

Professors Israel Charny and Yair Auron were invited by the Armenian government to speak at the Centennial Observance of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan, in April 2015. Both are leaders of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and Auron has created the outstanding and probably sole academic program in Israel on genocide at the Open University.