Israel, the Denier of Another Nation’s Holocaust

The country has always had its cost-benefit analyses and global interests to consider — now the issue is Turkey at the Armenians’ expense.

Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid
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A vigil after a church service commemorating the centenary of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces, in Berlin, April 23, 2015.
A vigil after a church service commemorating the centenary of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces, in Berlin, April 23, 2015.Credit: AFP
Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid

Today, April 24, 1915, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. But Pope Francis erred this month when he referred to it as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” The first took place in German South West Africa, what is now Namibia. Tens of thousands of tribespeople were annihilated. But blacks apparently don’t count as much.

The pope neglected to mention them when he cited the 1.5 million Armenians killed and called on the countries of the world to recognize the Ottoman Turks’ crime against the Armenians and humanity. Still, he should be commended. It’s not easy for him to take on the conservative Catholic establishment, which is only surpassed in its backwardness and corruption by the Israeli rabbinical establishment.

Will “the Jewish state” heed the Christian’s call? Or will it prefer, as usual, to focus on a different pope, accusing him of ignoring the destruction during those most awful times? True, Pius XII didn’t go out of his way to save Jews. But we too aren’t so quick to empathize with others’ suffering and rush to their aid. In its own way, Israel is also a denier of another nation’s holocaust.

Dozens of countries have already answered the Armenian plea and recognized the genocide, to the dismay of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and despite his government’s threats. The European Parliament just decided to break its silence too.

For what are the Armenians and their diaspora asking for? Not aid, just recognition. No one need be endangered for their sake; just show some sympathy and understanding. When eyes insist on remaining shut, wounds will keep on reopening.

But Israel hasn’t been willing to forgo its monopoly on victimhood or share its exclusive right to be the persecuted. It always has its cost-benefit analyses and global interests to consider — whether with apartheid South Africa or the juntas of Argentina and Chile.

And who’s going to preach to us, “the most moral” of them all? After all, official Israel also has custody of the universal conscience. As far as we’re concerned, the Armenians can go jump in a lake. We don’t jump first, because we’re no dummies. And we’ll be the last ones to resume relations with Cuba, as an arrogant American satellite.

Exactly 15 years ago today, I was invited to the Armenian Church in Jerusalem. “I’ve come to be with you on your remembrance day — as a human being, a citizen of the world, a Jew, an Israeli and the Israeli education minister,” I said. “You have been alone for too many years. Today, for the first time, you are less alone.”

Since then I’ve have been asked many times whether I consulted with the prime minister and the foreign minister. Why bother to ask when the answer is predictable and permission will not be granted? And I wasn’t exactly a child.

Sure enough, Prime Minister Ehud Barak hastened to distance himself from my comments, and others said the Armenian genocide must be left to the historians. And I was declared persona non grata in Turkey; to this day, Ankara isn’t waiting for me.

In the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara episode, when Israel-Turkey relations soured, there were encouraging signs. Perhaps now — so belatedly — the injustice will at last be corrected. What’s there to lose?

And this month came a new glimmer of hope with Kim Kardashian’s visit. What the Jewish head hasn’t accomplished the Armenian derriere would. But this hope failed too. Yes, the Knesset is sending MKs to the Armenian capital for the centennial — Likud’s Anat Berko and Zionist Union’s Nachman Shai — but these are backbenchers briefed by the Foreign Ministry. What difference does it make if they go or not?

It’s hard to understand why Turkey refuses to be different. Recently it seemed to be softening, but now it’s returning to its same old path. It’s not to blame for its ancestors’ sins, nor should it have to bear the historical responsibility for the Armenian Nakba. The wheel cannot be turned back, it can only be pulled out of the mire of blood and resentment, and be turned in new directions.

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