08/28 NY Sun: Moral of the Armenian Genocide

Moral of the Armenian Genocide
August 28, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/61436

The latest flap, involving the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abraham Foxman, over Jewish recognition of Turkey's genocidal killing of Armenians during World War I is more pathetic than anything else.

It is sad and shameful that, under pressure from Israeli governments fearful of antagonizing the Turks, Jewish organizations in both Israel and the Diaspora have been so reluctant to acknowledge a historical truth that is well-documented and beyond serious challenge. Whether the Turks, who were fighting desperately to hold onto what was left of the Ottoman Empire, intended to kill every last Armenian they could hunt down, of whether they simply wanted to kill enough of them to make sure that Turkey no longer had an "Armenian problem" after the war, there can be no doubt that many hundreds of thousands, and probably well over a million, Armenians were deliberately murdered by them in the years between 1915 and 1918.

As understandable as may be Israel's desire to preserve good relations with Turkey, the only Muslim country with which it has close economic and military ties, its behavior in regard to the Armenian genocide has been craven. For a Jewish state to abet the denial of genocide because it deems this necessary for the defense of Jewish interests is to make a mockery of the campaign against Holocaust denial. Worse yet, it is to make a mockery of Jewish accusations against the world for standing by and doing nothing while 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis.

After all, did not the countries of the world that failed to prevent the Nazis from planning and executing the murder of European Jewry have their legitimate interests, too? Did not the Swedes, who remained neutral throughout the war and went on trading and conducting diplomatic relations with the Germans, have an interest in not being conquered and occupied by the German army as were their Norwegian neighbors? Did not the British, who shut the gates of Palestine to Jewish refugees, have an interest in not inflaming anti-British and pro-German emotions among the Palestinian Arab population? Did not America have an interest in not bombing the crematoria in the Nazi death camps, which would have cost it pilots and airplanes while doing nothing to help win the war?

Indeed, these and other countries had far better reasons for acting as they did than Israel has had. By standing up to Germany, or seeking to save Jewish lives, they would have been running real risks. By standing up to Turkey, Israel would run no substantial risk at all, since for all their threats to retaliate against countries recognizing the Armenian genocide, the Turks have been consistently bluffing. Had Israel joined other countries in belatedly recognizing what the Armenians suffered, and encouraged Jewish organizations to follow suit, the Turks would have grumbled and lived with it.

And yet although Jews have every reason to feel ashamed at the way those representing them have dealt with the issue of the Armenian genocide, shame, it seems to me, is not the only appropriate response. A certain charity in regard to human nature is also called for.

After all, with all due respect to those who wish to make symbolic amends to the Armenians now, the more important fact is that not a country in the world did anything significant to save them then, or to call afterwards for bringing their murderers to justice. The 20th century's first genocide led to others because it went unresisted, unpunished, and for a long time unrecognized. Before the abandonment of the Jews came the abandonment of the Armenians, a Christian people over whose fate Christian civilization lost no sleep.

And yet unlike the Turks, the Christian world was not anti-Armenian; it had nothing against Armenians and certainly did not wish to see them killed; it simply had more important things on its mind. Jews might reflect on this in reflecting on their own fate in World War II. Although virulent anti-Semitism was certainly the cause of the Holocaust, it was not necessarily the cause of the world's failure to prevent or stop it. One didn't have to be an anti-Semite to put one's own interests first, whether those interests were national ones of the kind that motivate governments, or purely personal one of the kind, say, that made Polish peasants turn away Jews pleading for refuge because they didn't want to risk their own and their families lives.

Of course, many Europeans hated Jews and were happy to see them eliminated. But many others were fundamentally good, decent people who had no desire to see Jews perish but were not about to extend themselves in order to save them. They had their own priorities and Jews were not among them. Those of us who are citizens or supporters of a Jewish state that has similarly not put the Armenians at the top of its list should be able to understand that. We would not necessarily have behaved any differently.

If one is not going to be too harsh on oneself, one has to be kinder toward others. This, it seems to me, should be the real moral of the Armenian genocide controversy in the Jewish community. It is possible to be harshly critical of Israel for its position in this controversy while at the same time realizing that it has only been doing what most countries and people do most of the time, namely, looking out for itself. This should help make us morally modest enough to realize that not everyone who did that during the Holocaust deserves to be condemned by us.

Mr. Halkin is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.

Source: http://www.nysun.com/article/61436