Should Pol Pot have been invited to Israel to place a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial? If the murderer of millions of Cambodians were escorted by Israeli officials to a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, wouldn't blasphemy be the perfect word for the act?
Should Idi Amin have been allowed to appear at Yad Vashem?
What about the leaders of the Rwandan genocide, who took their machetes to 800,000 innocent human beings in 1994? Should Israel walk them down the aisle, wreaths in hand, to the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem? Blasphemy, indeed.
Unlike Pol Pot and the other mass murderers, the prime minister of Turkey has no blood on his hands, but the moral stench was the same this week when Israel had Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan place a wreath at Yad Vashem. Israel might as well have brought along convicted Holocaust denier David Irving for the ceremony. Shame on Israel for engaging in its own form of Holocaust denial. Turkey is the perpetrator of the first genocide in modern times, the Armenian genocide. And Turkey is no Germany: Germany is repentant. Turkey is not. Germany paid reparations. Turkey did not. Modern-day Turkey never acknowledged the Armenian genocide, never said, we're sorry. There are Holocaust memorials all over Germany; don't go look for Armenian memorials all over Turkey.
The vilest form of realpolitik governs Israel-Turkey relations and, to their eternal shame, some in the American Jewish community join in the ugly charade of exonerating modern-day Turkey for the Armenian genocide. Precisely the kind of tendentious (not to mention outright false) "scholarship" that makes Jews livid when used by Holocaust deniers to diminish the Holocaust, Israel turns a blind eye to when Turkey uses it to diminish the Armenian genocide.
What moral credence should Jews attribute to a head of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner, if he were to state that "whether" there was a Holocaust is a "matter for historians to decide"? No moral credence whatsoever. Yet, this is just what Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said about the Armenian genocide.
We have here a prime case of politics trumping truth. Israel needs a positive relationship with Turkey. And to get it, Israel will engage in the same form of genocide denial that it acidly resents when others put it in the form of Holocaust denial. The national American Jewish Committee tags along, engaging in every from of sophistry to deny the undeniable: the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Armenian people during World War I.
If Jews don't want the world to forget the Holocaust, how can the Jewish state forget the Armenian genocide? As time goes on, the 25-year gap between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust will shrink to the merest dots on the historical map. If one dot is deniable, the next one will also be very easy to deny.
The rationalizations for denial of the Armenian genocide are flimsy, indeed excruciating.
* Rationalization #1: It is said that the current Turkish government was not responsible for the Armenian genocide. This is 100% true -- and 100% irrelevant. Was the current German government responsible for the Holocaust? Of course not. But it is this German government that has openly acknowledged the truth, openly repented, and paid extensive reparations. Turkey does none of this.
This is highly dangerous. As time passes, no direct responsibility will be attributable to any government for any past genocide. Does this mean that Germany will gradually be exempt from honesty over its country's role in the Holocaust, or exempt from furthering Holocaust education? For Israel and the national American Jewish Committee to let the current Turkish government off the hook for the Armenian genocide 90 years ago -- which it is obviously not directly responsible for -- is to endanger all future education about all past genocides. Needless to say, the main point of genocide education is to prevent it. By the logic of exempting present-day Turkey from the Armenian genocide, genocide education will gradually halt. This is highly dangerous.
* Rationalization #2: It is said that the Armenian deaths weren't really a "genocide," just a "tragedy." Not so. Of the reams of evidence to the contrary -- thousands of independently gathered testimonies -- here is one from Hans Morgenthau, the (Jewish) US ambassador to Turkey during the first part of WW I, in a cable to the State Department:
"Deportations of and excesses against the peaceful Armenians is increasing, and from harrowing reports of eyewitnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion."
Note the key phrase: race extermination. That's genocide.
Morgenthau, as quoted in a recent report by Larry Derfner, also wrote: "Reports from widely scattered districts indicate a systematic attempt to uproot peaceful Armenian populations and . . . arbitrary efforts, terrible tortures, wholesale expulsions and deportations from one end of the empire to the other, accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage and murder, turning into massacre, to bring destruction and destitution on them."
Note the key adjective: systematic. That's genocide.
And yet, here we are: Turkey is allowed an honored place at Yad Vashem. And the national American Jewish Committee won't call the Armenian genocide by its name. This is a desecration.
Unlike the national American Jewish Committee, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum and especially the Museum of Tolerance, affiliated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, tell the truth. The Holocaust Museum in Washington mentions the Armenian genocide three times. The Museum of Tolerance does much more.
The truth, the whole truth, includes this: Turkey served as a haven for Jews after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and for more than 500 years afterward. Turkey is a secular state in a Moslem region, an important trading partner with Israel and an important strategic partner with the US. All true, deserving of recognition and indeed gratitude -- but not deserving of lies. The Armenian genocide is a fact. If you argue otherwise, you have to argue against the evidence not only of Hans Morgenthau but of Elie Wiesel, Deborah Lipstadt, Daniel Goldhagen, Raul Hilberg, Yehuda Bauer and countless other authorities.
It should not be hard for present day Israel or Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, or for Turkey to commit to Armenian-genocide education. After all, if the present Turkish government was not responsible for this genocide, why the denial of the past?
Whatever the social-psychological answer might be, it is not Israel's role to aid and abet genocide denial. Right now, there is genocide in Darfur. Directly abetting the indifference over it are those who deny genocide in the past. If there is anything in community and state relations that must be above all political considerations, it is genocide. Our humanity -- and the existence of humanity -- depends on it.