Top leaders of the Anti-Defamation League are strenuously fighting efforts to get the organization to adopt a more unambiguous position on the Armenian genocide at a national commission meeting.
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Top leaders of the Anti-Defamation League are strenuously fighting efforts to get the organization to adopt a more unambiguous position on the Armenian genocide at a national commission meeting.
The ADL's New England leadership is pushing for a more clearly worded statement recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.
In a bid to head off this effort at Thursday's meeting in New York, a letter was sent to dozens of the organization's national commissioners last week from 22 senior lay leaders opposing any change to the ADL's current position.
In August, under mounting pressure from its Boston-area constituency, the ADL reversed longstanding policy and called the "consequences" of the killings "tantamount to genocide." Some have called that formulation insufficient and a deliberate hedge, a claim the ADL denies.
Sources familiar with national ADL decision-making say the battle shaping up over the genocide question is virtually without precedent.
The ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, is said to wield significant influence over the proceedings. A push for action from a particular region rather than from the ADL's various committees, and a powerful push back from the organization's top leadership is unusual.
In their letter, the senior ADL leaders defended the August statement as a clear recognition that the killings were genocide and caution that any reopening of the question could further jeopardize U.S. and Israeli relations with Turkey, which adamantly rejects the genocide label.
Turkey has lobbied intensively to defeat a congressional measure recognizing the massacres as genocide.
"A resolution by the National Commission, ADL's most important body, of the kind recommended by our Boston colleagues (even if ADL does not endorse H. Res. 106) would be viewed and reported on as an action against Turkey and would be used aggressively by those seeking to gain passage of H. Res. 106," the leaders wrote, referring to the U.S. House of Representatives resolution.
"At a time when support for H. Res. 106 seems to be losing impetus in Congress as more and more Representatives are beginning to recognize the consequences that would flow from adoption of the resolution, we do not believe ADL should step back into this political thicket and run the risk of being perceived as a catalyst in reviving the momentum on H. Res. 106."
The Armenia question has bedeviled the ADL for months, since a Boston suburb moved to sever its ties with No Place for Hate, a popular ADL anti-bigotry program, in protest of the organization's refusal to use the term genocide.
Amid the furor, the ADL reversed itself on Aug. 21, but the momentum against No Place for Hate has only increased. Four other Boston-area communities have since broken ties with the program.
Armenian activists in the area accuse the ADL of genocide denial and have launched a Web site, NoPlaceForDenial.com, which demands an unambiguous statement on the genocide and support for the congressional measure.
Once considered a sure thing, the congressional resolution has lost steam in recent weeks following intense opposition and ominous statements from Ankara, including signs that anger over the resolution could prompt Turkey to launch attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish terrorists.
In Washington, the resolution has been criticized by Turkish lobbyists and former secretaries of state, eight of whom wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her not to allow the issue to come to a floor vote.
Jewish groups also have expressed concern that passage could lead Turkey to downgrade its partnership with Israel and imperil the tiny Turkish Jewish community.
Few expect that the ADL will decide to endorse the congressional resolution. But Boston leaders have been pushing to have the organization issue a clearer statement on genocide in the hope of stanching the flow of communities defecting from No Place for Hate.
One Boston leader described the opposition coming from the top as "hand-to-hand combat."
Larry Derfner , THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 31, 2007
How long are Israel and its lobby in Washington going to go on living this ridiculous, transparent lie? How long are they going to hock the world about the Holocaust while acting as Turkey's number two accomplice, number one being the White House, in denying the Armenian genocide? Again, Congress has demonstrated it won't recognize that the Ottoman Empire, Turkey's predecessor, deliberately wiped out about 1.5 million Armenians in 1915-17. Again, the president of the United States has scared Congress off with a big assist from the Anti-Defamation League and other American Jewish "defense" organizations. (Historically, the American Jewish Committee has led the Israel lobby's effort to shut Congress up about the genocide and the Ottoman Empire's culpability.)
This time, the main reason given was American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without Turkey's good will and cooperation, it was argued, the US would not be able to get weapons and equipment to its soldiers in battle. This is obviously a serious concern - but the White House, Israel and the Israel lobby have been hushing up the Armenian genocide for decades, when there were no American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is not the real reason.
The real reason is that in war and peace, Turkey is a critical strategic ally and economic partner of the US and Israel, and the US and Israel do not want to risk upsetting this ally, so, with help in Congress from the ADL, AJC and the like, they enforce the lie that there was no Armenian genocide. Or if there was a genocide, it is not clear who was responsible. Or if it is clear that the Ottoman Empire was responsible, it is not clear that Turkey should inherit the guilt.
"This is a matter for historians to decide," goes the Israeli and American Jewish establishment line.
The historians, however, decided a long time ago. More than 125 Holocaust scholars - including Elie Wiesel, the late Raul Hilberg, Deborah Lipstadt, Daniel Goldhagen and Yehuda Bauer - have signed ads in The New York Times demanding acknowledgment that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against the Armenians.
Wiesel testified in Congress on behalf of such a resolution. The International Association of Genocide Scholars - which is studded with Jewish names - holds the same view as a matter of course.
SOMEWHERE around three reputable historians disagree. They are led by Bernard Lewis, who may be the world's foremost scholar of Islam, but who, among world scholars, is certainly the foremost enthusiast of Turkey.
There are probably fewer historians who doubt the Armenian genocide than there are scientists who doubt evolution. Maybe we should reserve judgment on evolution, too.
A key Jewish argument for continuing this policy of denial is that breaking it would endanger the 20,000 or so Jews of Turkey, whose leaders have warned against crossing their government on this matter. But if Israel and its lobby in Washington really believe this, then they've as much as sentenced the 25,000 Jews in Iran to death, haven't they? Is anyone in the Israeli government or AIPAC suggesting that they lower the volume on Iran for the sake of Iranian Jewry? So the Turkish Jewish community isn't a real reason for denying the Armenian genocide, it's another excuse.
The one and only genuine moral argument for public Jewish denial of the Armenian genocide is the Jewish people's historical debt to Turkey. For 500 years, up through the time of the Nazis, Turkey gave life-saving refuge to Jews running from persecution, and did so in a welcoming spirit.
This historical truth can't be denied, either. And it presents Jews with a heavy moral dilemma. For Jews to recognize the Armenian genocide is an undeniable act of disloyalty to Turkey, to which we owe an unpayable debt of gratitude.
But I don't think it's terminal disloyalty, I don't think it's unforgivable disloyalty. With time, it's not something that can't be made up for with other acts of Jewish or Israeli gratitude.
Denying the Armenian genocide, on the other hand, is an unforgivable, terminal betrayal not only of the Armenians, but of truth, of decency, of the legacy of the Holocaust, of ourselves as Jews, of ourselves as people.
What's more, the Jewish moral debt to Turkey is at best a secondary motive in Israel's and the Israel lobby's campaign of genocide denial. Their overriding concern is Israeli security and economics.
Which, of course, is a 100% legitimate concern. Security and economics are the primary concern of every nation, and Israel is part of the family of nations. But the thing is this: If Israel and the Israel lobby can pursue practical self-interest alone, they can't insist that the rest of the world act like Righteous Gentiles.
They can't go on intoning that "the world stood silent" during the Holocaust when they - the leaders of the Jewish world - act as front-line enforcers of silence on the Armenian genocide.
It's one or the other: morality or realpolitik. As a nation of the world, Israel, along with its lobby in Washington, have always chosen realpolitik. What they may not know, however, is that by now the world sees through them.
The world doesn't take seriously what an Israeli leader or an American Jewish macher has to say about the Six Million, not when it sees that same Israeli leader and American Jewish macher shushing everyone over the murders of 1.5 million other innocents.
Thankfully, those politicians are not the only Jewish voices on the Armenian genocide, or on the Holocaust. There is also Wiesel, Lipstadt, Goldhagen, Bauer, Congressman Adam Schiff, Yossi Sarid and many, many others.
Either you value truth first, or you value power first. Every Jew, every person, makes the choice.
By Judie Jacobson
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 7:54 PM EDT
NEW BRITAIN-“What is your definition of anti-Semitism and can you provide examples of criticisms of Israel that are anti-Semitic?”
On the face of it, it seemed like an odd question for Dr. Jay Bergman, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) to be asking of his colleague Dr. Sadanand Nanjundiah, a professor of physics who primarily teaches the introductory courses in physics, quantum mechanics and mathematical physics at the state-funded school located in New Britain.
But Bergman wasn’t discussing anything Nanjundiah had done in the classroom. Instead, his question came in response to a long e-mail Nanjundiah had sent to the CCSU faculty criticizing the inclusion of an Anti-Defamation League staff member on the short list for the position of Chief Diversity Officer at CCSU.
“It is very troubling to read that one of the candidates for the Executive Assistant to the President/Chief Diversity Officer position at CCSU is identified as ‘currently the Assistant Director for the A World of Difference Institute of the Anti-Defamation League in Hamden, CT,” wrote Nanjundiah, referring to Deborah Colucci, who in her current position helps to oversee a program within the ADL that provides anti-bias training to schools, campuses, workplaces, and communities. Colucci is one of three candidates for the CCSU position selected from among more than 150 applicants to visit the campus for an open forum, to which all faculty were welcome to come.
In an e-mail sent via the university’s list serve to the entire faculty, Nanjundiah “reminded all of the recent history of the ADL.”
“(The ADL’s) focus has become one of defending Israel’s ‘pristine’ image, come what may, and anyone (not even excluding ex-President Carter, Nobel Peace Prize winner and renowned for his humanitarian work) who dares to criticize the government of Israel for its harsh (apartheid-like) treatment of Palestinians in illegally occupied Palestine. Most recently, the ADL has engineered the cancellation of talks by well known scholars like Prof. Tony Judt of NYU, Profs. Walt and Mearsheimer (authors of the book “Israel Lobby”) at various institutions merely because they were critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians or because they maintained that the actions of the Lobby were inimical to the interests of the U.S…The ADL’s method…is simple: label anyone who dares criticize Israel or the influence of its Lobby in determining U.S. policies in the Middle East to be ‘anti-Semitic,’ thereby squelching legitimate debate on Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and of the Lobby’s influence in determining U.S. foreign policy.”
And don’t think the long arm of the ADL stops there, Nanjundiah continued.
In case you didn’t know, he wrote, “The ADL has also been involved in pressuring Congress not to pass a resolution that recognizes the Armenian genocide so as not to jeopardize the ties between Israel and Turkey.” Finally, as if for good measure, he added links to several web articles that “expose some of the actions of the ADL.”
In light of all that, wrote Nanjundiah, “…it would be utterly incongruous to consider anyone who comes from ADL for the position of ‘diversity officer’.”
Not that this was the first time CCSU faculty had been briefed on the subject of Israel from their colleague. Nanjundiah, who received a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and a PhD in physics from the University of Connecticut, has a well-known penchant for sharing his unflattering views of Israel and its supporters with other faculty via the school’s list-serv.
Likewise, he frequently speaks out on the subject online. For example, responding to what he called a “ludicrous article in defense of Israel” that appeared on the Media Monitors Network website in Oct. 2004, Nanjundiah wrote, “The reality is that Israel has been cleansing all of Palestine of its indigenous population, which is the real genocide in this region. But for die-hard Zionists, Israel can never do any wrong and any criticism or negative characterization of its belligerence or oppression is immediately called "anti-Semitic."
But while several of Nanjundiah’s colleagues have responded with criticism to his list-serv missives, most, including CCSU President Jack Miller, have preferred to sit quietly by and allow him the freedom to present his point of view.
This time, Nanjundiah’s e-mail hit a nerve among those who saw it as a witch hunt of sorts.
“Substitute ‘Communist Party’ for the ADL and you are back to the blacklisting and suspicions of the 1950s,” wrote Paul Petterson, a political science professor. “If the organization a candidate worked for raises questions in your mind, go and speak with them directly at the interview process about your concerns. Treat them as we all should be treated n as individuals, with respect.”
Serafin Mendez-Mendez, a communications professor, announced his intention to evaluate all three candidates on their own merits. He also took aim at the anti-Semitic tone he detected in Nanjundiah’s note.
“I despite the potential anti-Semitic subtexts that I am seeing here lately,” he wrote. “The unfair targeting of ‘anything Jewish’ is making me every bit as angry as the Polydong cartoon,” he wrote, referring to a recent offensive cartoon in the school’s newspaper.
Bergman hammered Nanjundiah on his statement that the ADL “labels” those who criticize Israel as anti-Semitic.
“If you are going to criticize people and institutions for misusing the term, you really should indicate instances, hypothetical or real, in which the term is used correctly. Or is it your view that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist, and that it doesn’t exist because the term itself is meaningless?” he wrote.
Bergman was not surprised that Nanjundiah did not answer his query.
“I’ve asked him the same question before and he has never given me the courtesy of a response,” Bergman told the Ledger.
This time around, however, Bergman was pleased to hear from President Miller.
“It is wrong n indeed, grossly unfair n to label “Colucci’s candidacy as “inappropriate” because she works for a particular organization,” responded Miller in a list-serv e-mail to faculty. “Her education, training, and background make her a highly qualified candidate for the position.”
“Prof. Nanjundiah’s commentary, without even the professionalism and courtesy of posing questions to the candidate and allowing her to respond, is not what we should expect from a colleague.”
As the Ledger went to press, a decision on the selection of CCSU’s chief diversity officer had still not been announced.
CONTACT: Karoon Panosyan
Diocese of The Armenian Church Sends Letter to ADL Chair
Washington, DC -- The Armenian Assembly of America would like to call your attention to the following letter sent yesterday from Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Eastern Dioceses of the Armenian Church of America to the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Abraham Foxman, calling upon the ADL to condemn all genocide and crimes against humanity.
Below is the full text of the Archbishops letter to Foxman:
Dear Mr. Foxman,
I hope this letter finds you well. I know that you are preparing for a leadership meeting of the ADL so I wanted to follow-up on my letter of 28 August.
Again, I reiterate my appreciation for the ADL leadership taking up the issue of the Armenian Genocide. I know that organizational change, especially on sensitive, long-standing policy issues is difficult, yet a further clarification will be important for our two communities.
The Jewish ethic of Tikkun Olam, perfecting our broken world, requires us all to move out of our comfort zones, especially when matters of justice and human rights are at stake. While the ADL’s position on the recognition of the genocide has become clearer, I urge you and your colleagues to take the next, necessary step and make unequivocally clear the condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. Only by removing any language the does not fully express uniform recognition and condemnation in the most resolute terms possible, by the ADL and/or any other body, can the fullness of justice be achieved.
To acknowledge the Armenian Genocide only to speak against resolutions condemning it sets a terrible, moral precedent. Recognition leads to condemnation and without that, there can be no steps towards prevention. Recognition without condemnation does not promote justice. The last century, and sadly the first decade of this century, have seen man’s continued assault on the fundamental right to live, most notably in the Armenian Genocide, the Shoa, Cambodian Genocide, Rawandan Genocide, and sadly the Genocide that now rages on in Darfur. We cannot expect the protection of our own human rights if we are not courageous enough to speak out in favor of human rights for all. When the rights of our own human rights if we are not courageous enough to speak out in favor of human rights for all. When the rights of one are diminished, all are diminished.
As you know, in law, silence is tantamount to acquiescence, therefore we must not condone and therefore share in preferential selection of one race against another through our silence. We cannot allow the political considerations that whisper today to define our resolute condemnation of all crimes against humanity, for such a decision would resonate for eternity. We must give full and unwaivering voice to our commitment to humanity.
I urge you and all members of the ADL leadership, to join in removing all objections to the condemnation of any and every genocide and crime against humanity. Because of the good work the ADL has done throughout the decades you have a unique ability to speak out. Please use that voice resoundingly in this moral imperative.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Tue., October 30, 2007
Two and a half weeks ago the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee decided to recognize the Armenian genocide - that Turkey had perpetrated genocide against its Armenian population. The harsh Turkish response to this decision, and the pressure exerted by Turkey, resulted in the decision to not bring it before Congress for approval, and this worsened the crisis even more. The Knesset, it turns out, was a party to the pressure.
A week after the House Committee's decision, a meeting was held in Washington as part of the joint security dialogue between the U.S. Congress and the Knesset, led by Republican Senator John Kyle of Arizona and MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud). The MKs also met with the committee, and the representatives asked the Israelis what they thought of their decision; if they should continue with the process of recognizing the Armenian holocaust; and about the status of relations between Turkey and Israel.
Steinitz replied that cooperation between Israel and Turkey is very good. Regarding choosing between the issue of relations with Turkey and clarifying historical truth, Steinitz has no doubts as to which the Americans should favor.
"The massacres happened 90 years ago, during the Ottoman Period, but today there are only two Muslim countries that are partners in the war on terror, and who maintain joint efforts with the United States and Israel: Turkey and Jordan," Steinitz said. "Turkey deserves a commendation."
Steinitz added that Turkey made a suggestion that seems reasonable: to establish an international committee of historians, before whom both parties would open their archives.
Among the delegation of MKs was Meretz-Yahad Chair Yossi Beilin. When Beilin was deputy foreign minister in 1994, he told the Knesset plenum that what had happened was genocide; had aroused deep anger in Turkey; and had become the darling of the Armenians. Beilin also told the members of Congress that there is no doubt that there was a genocide. Still, he did not demand that they continue with the recognition process. Beilin noted that they have to consider the risk to relations with Turkey, as well as the fact that Israel has been drawn into this conflict.
The truth is that even before the Congressional committee's decision, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan met with Steinitz during a visit to Israel, and ask Steinitz's assistance in opposing the decision. Steinitz says that he mentioned this, of his own volition, to several congressmen. He believes that the Israeli position influenced the shelving of the committee's decision. The Armenian holocaust will have to wait for a time when Turkey's strategic importance declines.
The United States should be squeezing Turkey, not the other way around.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Oct. 29, 2007, at 11:36 AM ET
In the past century, the principal victims of genocide or attempted genocide have been, or
at least have prominently included, the Armenians, the Jews, and the Kurds. During most of the month of October, events and politicians both conspired to set these three peoples at one another's throats. What is there to be learned from this fiasco for humanity?
To recapitulate: At the very suggestion that the U.S. House of Representatives might finally pass a long-proposed resolution recognizing the 1915 massacres in Armenia as a planned act of "race murder" (that was U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau's term for it at a time when the word genocide had not yet been coined), the Turkish authorities redoubled their threat to invade the autonomous Kurdish-run provinces of northern Iraq. And many American Jews found themselves divided between their sympathy for the oppressed and the slaughtered and their commitment to the state interest of Israel, which maintains a strategic partnership with Turkey, and in particular with Turkey's highly politicized armed forces.
To illuminate this depressing picture, one might begin by offering a few distinctions. In 1991, in northern Iraq, where you could still see and smell the gassed and poisoned towns and villages of Kurdistan, I heard Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan say that Kurds ought to apologize to the Armenians for the role they had played as enforcers for the Ottomans during the time of the genocide. Talabani, who has often repeated that statement, is now president of Iraq. (I would regard his unforced statement as evidence in itself, by the way, in that proud peoples do not generally offer to apologize for revolting crimes that they did not, in fact, commit.) So, of course, it was upon him, both as an Iraqi and as a Kurd, that Turkish guns and missiles were trained last month.
And here, a further distinction: Many of us who are ardent supporters of Kurdish rights and aspirations have the gravest reservations about the so-called Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. This is a Stalinist cult organization, roughly akin to a Middle Eastern Shining Path group. (Its story, and the story of its bizarre leader Abdullah Öcalan, are well told in Aliza Marcus' new book Blood And Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence.) The attempt of this thuggish faction to exploit the new zone of freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan is highly irresponsible and plays directly into the hands of those forces in the Turkish military who want to resurrect Kemalist chauvinism as a weapon against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which it sees as soft on Kurdish demands. There's a paradox here, in that the uniformed satraps who claim to defend Turkish secularism are often more reactionary than the recently re-elected and broadly Islamist Justice and Development Party. The generals vetoed a meeting earlier this year between Abdullah Gul—now president of Turkey and then foreign minister—and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. This alone shows that they are using the border question and the PKK as a wedge issue for domestic politics.
This is enough complexity to be going on with, but Congress and the executive branch have been handling it with appalling amateurishness. The Armenian resolution is an old story. I can remember when it was sponsored by Sen. Robert Dole and stonewalled by President Bill Clinton. What a shame that we didn't get it firmly on the record decades ago. But now a House and a White House that can barely bring themselves to utter the word Kurdish are both acting as if nothing mattered except Turkish amour-propre. And, as a consequence, the United States and its friends are being squeezed by Ankara instead of—to put it shortly—the other way around. This is disgracefully undignified.
In 2003, the Turkish authorities, who had been parasitic on American and NATO support for several decades, refused to allow our bases in Turkey to be employed for a "northern front" in the removal of Saddam Hussein unless their own forces were allowed to follow us into Iraqi Kurdistan. The Bush administration quite rightly refused this bargain. The damage done by Turkey's subsequent fit of pique was enormous—nobody ever mentions it, but if the coalition had come at Baghdad from two directions, a number of Sunni areas would have got the point (of irreversible regime change) a lot sooner than they did. The rogue PKK presence was not then a hot issue; Turkey simply wished to pre-empt the emergence of any form of Iraqi Kurdish self-government that could be an incitement or encouragement to its own huge Kurdish minority.
So, let us be clear on a few things. The European Union, to which Turkey has applied for membership with warm American support, has insisted on recognition of Kurdish language rights and political rights within Turkey. We can hardly ask for less. If the Turks wish to continue lying officially about what happened to the Armenians, then we cannot be expected to oblige them by doing the same (and should certainly resent and repudiate any threats against ourselves or our allies that would ensue from our Congress affirming the truth). Then there remains the question of Cyprus, where Turkey maintains an occupation force that has repeatedly been condemned by a thesaurus of U.N. resolutions ever since 1974. It is not our conduct that should be modified by Turkey's arrogance; we do a favor to the democratization and modernization of that country by insisting that it get its troops out of Cyprus, pull its forces back from the border with Iraq, face the historic truth about Armenia, and in other ways cease to act as if the Ottoman system were still in operation.
-- Charles Smolover
Elie Wiesel is a Romanian-born French-Jewish novelist, political activist, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor and outspoken advocate for justice. He is the author of over 40 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust. He is attending the AIPAC Summit in Philadelphia at the end of October and spoke recently with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.
PJV: You will be in Philadelphia next week for the AIPAC Summit and you are no doubt aware of The Israel Lobby, the critical book about AIPAC by Walt and Mearsheimer. Setting aside the many factual errors in the book, is it possible that there is a kernel of truth to their argument, that AIPAC’s power hinders United States politicians from offering legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies?
I have not read the book, but I have read about it and read some excepts. The people who have criticized it are responsible people and I have confidence in their judgment. Nevertheless, I cannot really comment having not read it myself. As to the general question you ask, as to AIPAC itself, I think AIPAC is a useful, important and vocal organization. I think the Jewish community needs it and I think Israel needs it. Does it mean that because of AIPAC some statesmen or politicians feel threatened? I don’t believe that. We live in a democracy. Nobody is afraid to speak up. This is not Stalinist Russia. AIPAC is good be cause it mobilizes all those Jews who love the Jewish state and the Jewish people, but I don’t think it represents a threat to those who disagree with the policies of the Israeli government.
PJV: The subject of the Armenian Genocide has been in the news. The U.S. Congress has been debating whether to officially recognize the events in question as genocide, and the Turks, to no one’s surprise, are not pleased. Some in the Jewish community are reluctant to touch this issue for fear of damaging Turkey’s relationship with Israel. What is your take on this issue?
I have been fighting for the right of the Armenian people to remember for years and years. How could I, who has fought all my life for Jewish remembrance, tell the Armenians they have no right to remember? But I understand the administration's view. Fortunately, as a private citizen I don’t have to worry about Turkey’s response. But I do feel that had there been the word “genocide” in those days, what happened to the Armenians would have been called genocide. Everyone agrees there was mass murder, but the word came later. I believe the Armenians are the victims and, as a Jew, I should be on their side.
PJV: If the Armenians have a right to remember, don’t the Turks have an obligation to take some responsibility?
No one is asking for the Turks to take responsibility. All the Armenians want is the right to remember. Seven generations separate us from the events that happened in World War I and nobody in his right mind would say that today's Turks are responsible for what happened. The Armenians don’t want reparations, they don’t even want an apology. They want the right to remember. The Turks would gain a lot if they simply acknowledged the reality of what happened. I have spoke with Turkish leaders at the highest level and their attitude about this issue is totally irrational except for one thing which I do understand. They don’t want to be compared to Hitler. But of course, nobody does.
PJV: Is anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe?
I am not sure I would characterize the situation in Europe in terms of whether there is a rise in anti-Semitism there. Europe clearly has an anti-Semitic past and there are clearly anti-Semites in Europe today. The question is whether they are part of a growing movement. I don’t think they are. But there is a trend, a trend of being anti-Israel, which you also see in American in certain circles. This anti-Israel feeling, when taken to an extreme, becomes anti-Semitic.
PJV: What about in France? And what is the impact of the election of Nicolas Sarkozy?
This anti-Israel trend is certainly true in France. But I have a feeling that Sarkozy and his government will take steps to contain it, to mute it.
PJV: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will soon convene yet another U.S.- sponsored conference to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Absent some fundamental change in the status quo, do you expect this conference to have a different result than the many that have preceded it?
You now how dangerous prophesy is. As a French poet once said, the future isn't what it used to be. But I can tell you that the current situation in the Middle East cannot go on indefinitely. People are tired. I organized the first meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert. They fell into each other’s arms. It was quite moving. They sat around the table, they ate breakfast and they discussed a range of issues – scientific cooperation, economics, education. Everything looked great. Three weeks later, Hamas and Hezbollah ignite new violence and the process ground to a halt. But we cannot stop trying to make peace. We cannot stop. Are we justified in feeling more hopeful about these new talks? I don’t know. There is no telling how terrorism can effect the situation. That is the evil power of terror.
PJV: Much has been written lately about Israel entering a so called post-Zionist period that is marked by some disturbing trends, including a rise in draft dodging, increased tension between secular and religious Israelis and a growing disparity between the wealthiest and poorest levels of Israeli society. As a frequent visitor to Israel, what is your sense of the zeitgeist?
I go to Israel at least three or four times a year. I hear about these trends and it is depressing. But I believe it is a passing phase and that Israel’s citizenry has the resources to overcome it.
PJV: One last little question: What is the single greatest challenge facing the Jewish people today?
Years ago when I was a journalist, David Ben-Gurion asked me to go to America and meet with various leaders and explore the question of who is a Jew. That was a big concern of his. Today I think the challenge is understanding what it means to be a Jew in today’s world. Of course, various communities of Jews have answers. Zionists will say that being a Jew is about making aliyah. Orthodox Jews may tell you it’s about performing mitzvot. But I think we need a deeper understanding, especially today when we are threatened around the world by the rise of fanaticism. It would like to see a high level conference of intellectuals, thinkers, moralists and philosophers convened to address this question.
Armenian Americans slammed the decision by a university in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to honor Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Armenian Americans slammed the decision by a university in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to honor Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad during a state visit to Armenia last week was presented with a gold medal and an honorary doctorate Monday from Yerevan State University.
An editorial in the Armenian weekly, the house organ of the Armenian National Committee of America, condemned the university, noting that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier who has disregarded historical research.
"The university's decision to bestow an honorary doctorate is simply unacceptable," the editorial said. "We are surprised that as the officials in charge of the alma mater of a nation that rose from the ashes of another genocide, they did not take this fact into consideration before deciding to award the honorary degree."
Ahmadinejad's visit came as Armenian Americans and their supporters continued to press for a resolution in Congress recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Turkey as genocide.
Part of their campaign has focused on the Anti-Defamation League, which initially refused to use the word genocide to describe the killings but backtracked amid opposition from its leadership in the Boston area -- home to one of the highest concentrations of Armenians in the country.
The ADL called the massacre of Armenians "tantamount to genocide."
Despite the shift the ADL, along with other major U.S. Jewish groups, continue to oppose a congressional resolution out of concern for its impact on Turkish ties with Israel and the United States.
Consequently, the Armenian activists' campaign against the ADL has not eased.
A Web site, No Place For Denial, continues to accuse the ADL of genocide denial, alleging that its statements on the subject have been ambiguous, a charge the ADL denies. The continuing momentum has led several communities in the Boston area to end their partnerships with a highly regarded anti-bigotry program sponsored by the ADL.
Dikran Kaligian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America's Eastern Region, rejected the suggestion to mount a similar campaign against Yerevan State University, asserting that such a comparison was "apples and oranges."
The proper analogue to the ADL, Kaligian said, is not Yerevan State but ANCA, which is the largest Armenian grass-roots organization in the United States. The organization is an affiliate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an international political party founded in 1890.
Kaligian said ANCA has never taken an ambiguous position on the Holocaust. The ADL, by contrast, has endorsed a proposal for Armenia and Turkey to form a joint commission to arrive at a resolution of the issue, a step Armenians adamantly reject.
"The ANCA has never called for further study of the Holocaust," Kaligian said. "That's the analogy you have to make, and I think we've been very clear on it."
Both Kaligian and Sevag Arzoumanian, who runs No Place for Denial, agree that it was appropriate for Ahmadinejad to be invited to Armenia, a landlocked country that depends on good relations with its neighbors for trade and energy. But they said bestowing an academic honor was one step too far.
In an e-mail to JTA, Arzoumanian wrote, "How can Yerevan State University give an academic degree, however symbolic, to someone who takes the intellectually dishonest position that there needs to be further research and academic conferences to determine if the Holocaust occurred? What were they thinking? I think the YSU made a terrible error of judgment, both academically and morally."
Jewish support for Congress to call an Armenian massacre 'genocide' has strained relations between the longtime allies.
By Ilene R. Prusher Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
It's not that often that one finds an archbishop in long black vestments making his way down the hill from Jerusalem's Old City for a political protest at Israel's Foreign Ministry.
But for Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, these are not ordinary times, and matters of conscience are at hand. They begin with the stories that his father told him about the atrocities he witnessed as a 9-year-old, which ended in the death of his father's parents and uncles. The year was 1915, and Mr. Shirvanian's father escaped, like many others, to the Holy Land, which has a prominent Armenian community.
They ended in Washington, where a congressional resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide was tabled late last week amid intense domestic and international pressure.
Much of that pressure came not just from Turkey but from Israel. While some American Jewish groups had taken up the cause of the Armenian genocide, the Jewish State was busy lobbying on behalf of their Turkish allies, rare friends in the Muslim world who maintain both military and economic ties with Israel. Turkey, the first Muslim country to recognize Israel, has long rejected the idea that the killings of Armenians should be called a genocide. They say that many Turks, as well as Armenians, were killed at the time.
The Israeli stance – following an Oct. 10 House committee vote in favor of passing a genocide resolution – prompted the first protest of its kind by this country's usually apolitical Armenian Orthodox community, which numbers about 5,000, not including approximately 20,000 Jewish Armenians who have immigrated here over the years.
With Israel's strategic relationship with Turkey in mind, the Armenian question has become an untouchable topic. The protest went virtually uncovered by most of the local media and got noticed by foreign papers only.
To Shirvanian, who was born in pre-state Haifa and spent 30 years in the US before returning to Jerusalem, this is no reason to give up now.
"This was the first genocide in the 20th century, and the Jewish one followed. Passing this is as important as recognition of the Jewish Holocaust by the whole world," he says.
"If there's no recognition of such heinous acts, then the crime may be repeated," Shirvanian says. "We want this because Turkish leaders have never expressed any remorse for what happened to the Armenian people. Secondly, most Armenians hope there will be some kind of reparation, like there was to the Jewish people."
Turkey made its viewpoint clear during the visit here earlier this month of its foreign minister, Ali Babacan, who told several Israeli media outlets that Turks believe the resolution amounts to a Jewish and Armenian cabal to besmirch Turkey, and that he hoped Israel would intervene.
"All of a sudden the perception in Turkey right now is that the Jewish people ... and the Armenian lobbies are now hand in hand trying to defame Turkey, and trying to condemn Turkey and the Turkish people," Mr. Babacan told The Jerusalem Post.
Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, explained in an interview last week that it's natural for Turkey to ask Israel for help in Washington.
Mr. Tan says that one major reason the genocide resolution got as far as it did was the decision of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – a major Jewish-American organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry worldwide – to come out in support of the Armenian genocide resolution.
"We cannot deny the fact the Israel is the heart of the Jewish communities worldwide, and there is a very strong and effective interaction between Israel and the Jewish community. We have a right to ask our Israeli friends to talk to their friends in the US," he says.
"There is another fact, that eight of the sitting members of the foreign relations committee are of Jewish descent and they are ardent supporters of this resolution, and all voted in favor of it, which encouraged and bolstered the ambitions of the Armenians and the ADL statement," Tan adds. The ADL, he says, "has confused the hearts and minds of so many Jewish institutions."
He warned that the resolution's passage would do additional damage to Israel's image in Turkey.
"When something like this resolution passes, it really offends the Turkish people, and it becomes impossible to explain to the rank-and-file people that it is not related to Israel," he says.
An Israeli government official, who asked not to be named, says that Turkey's conception of Israel's influence over Jews abroad is distorted.
"The whole idea that Israel can control the American Jewish community is obviously a bit of a misunderstanding of reality," the official says.
Tan says there is no proof to support the genocide claims and reiterated what he says is a longstanding offer to bring Turkish and Armenian historians together to study the issue.
That, says George Hintlian, historian of the Armenian community of Jerusalem, is not an option.
"For us," he says, "it's like sitting with David Irving," a self-styled British historian famous for questioning facts surrounding the Holocaust. "Do you sit with deniers? Modest deniers?"
Mr. Hintlian says his father was 17 years old during a famous death march in which his grandfather died. He believes it's only a matter of time, perhaps 10 or 15 years, before the US and others recognize the events of 1915 as a genocide.
In the meantime, he brings along a copy of the grim "map of the Armenian genocide," copies of which paper the alleyways of the Armenian quarter of the Old City, for anyone interested in the issue. The posters often get ripped down or defaced; activists in the community soon replace them.
"I think the totality of the Israeli public and the press sympathizes with us, but this double-standard is so embarrassing for Israeli intellectuals that it's hard for anyone here to speak about it," he says. "We have a psychological burden for the next generation. The American-Jewish community is saying that this stain should be taken away from the people of the Holocaust, but Israel is acting pragmatically."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev says, "The process in the House of Representatives is an internal American affair and we're not involved in that. Our position on the Armenian tragedy is well known and has not changed." The Foreign Ministry issued a statement a few months ago noting the "tragedy" that occurred in 1915, which included "mass killings."
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Published: 27 October 2007
She has no memory of her father or mother. She was abandoned as an infant –it almost certainly saved her life because she was found on the side of the road by an American missionary – on one of the death marches in 1915 from Gurun, in central Anatolia. Even her name was given to her by the Near East Relief orphanage in Lebanon where she grew up. Sadly, she says, most of her fellow survivors in Jerusalem of the Armenian genocide have died.
But Mary Kevorkian, a sprightly widow of 93, is proud of the independent life she leads – including the daily shopping and cleaning of her home in Jerusalem's Old City. "I do all my own work," she says cheerfully. "I don't need anybody."
This week she joined more than 100 other, rather younger, demonstrators –about 10 per cent of a once much larger Jerusalem Armenian community dating back to Roman times – outside the Foreign Ministry. They were protesting against what they believe is the Israeli government's use of its considerable lobbying influence on Capitol Hill to try to thwart the bill which would mean US recognition of the genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians, including Mrs Kevorkian's parents, died.
Turkey, which is infuriated by the Democrat-sponsored bill and which enjoys better relations with Israel than any other Muslim country, has made it clear it expects its ally to help halt its progress. Israel, like Britain, has in the past expressed sympathy for what it accepts were massacres but stopped short of calling them genocide.
Mrs Kevorkian, who has lived in Jerusalem since 1939, came to the protest on a hot October day even though she dislikes thinking about the subject. She says that when she sees banners commemorating the terrible events between 1915 and 1923, "I remember why I did not have my father and mother. When I read about the genocide I start to cry."
This week, however, the banners were focused on Turkey's concerted efforts to ensure the bill, having been approved this month by the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee, is not passed by the full House of Representatives. As protesters, including a choir of uniformed schoolgirls, sang the Armenian national anthem and the Lord's Prayer in Armenian they brandished placards aimed at the Israeli public, including: "Today's denial is tomorrow's genocide/holocaust".
On Thursday, the bill's sponsors, led by the California congressman Adam Schiff, agreed to postpone the debate, bowing to fears that it could precipitate a full-blown crisis in US-Turkish relations at exactly the time when the US is trying to persuade Turkey not to launch an invasion of northern Iraq against the Kurdish PKK.
Turkey, a main conduit of supplies to American forces in Iraq, has also warned passage of the bill could hamper the US war effort. But Mr Schiff, who is Jewish and has a significant Armenian constituency, and his co-sponsors have made it clear they will bring it back for debate in the coming months.
The organisers of this week's demonstration here accuse the Israeli government of having already twice – in 1989 and 2000 – "openly interfered" in similar Congressional votes despite opinion polls suggesting that most Israelis favour the recognition sought in the bill. In urging it not to do so again, the demonstrators were joined by two prominent Israeli politicians, the Meretz Party Knesset member Haim Oron and a former minister in the government of Yizthak Rabin, Yair Tsaban.
Mr Oron said there was a natural Knesset majority for recognition, including the right-wing Likud, but it needed to overcome pressure from a government determined to maintain close ties with Turkey.
Mr Tsaban said he was supporting the protest "as a member of humanity born in the 20th century which witnessed all kinds of genocides, of which the worst was the Holocaust, and of course as a Jew". Mr Tsaban, two of whose grandparents were exterminated in Auschwitz, added: "I feel that is their will that I should support this campaign against denial of the genocide."
George Hintlian, an Armenian community spokesman, said the refusal of a modern country such as Turkey to take responsibility for the genocide was unique, as it was that a "nation that has gone through the Holocaust should be helping the denial".
Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the Congressional bill was an "internal US affair" and the Israeli view of the "tragic events" that engulfed the Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire was well known.
Boyajian: The Greenway is No Place for the Anti-Defamation League
By David Boyajian
Fri Oct 26, 2007, 06:43 AM EDT
WATERTOWN - The magnificent New Center for Arts and Culture, sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, will probably soon rise on Boston’s new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.
But suppose — hypothetically — that the chairperson of the Greenway Conservancy, which is charged with the future maintenance of the Greenway, had been impeding final approval of the New Center’s construction. Suppose, too, that he or she was a leading member of a Holocaust-denying organization that also opposed Holocaust resolutions in Congress. Impossible, you say?
Probably, but the Armenian Heritage Park is actually undergoing just such an ordeal. The Mass. Pike, which owns the Greenway, approved the Armenian Park in 2005, but construction has been held up, mostly by Greenway Conservancy Chairperson Peter Meade.
Meade sits on the board of the New England Anti-Defamation League. As the national and international media have reported, ADL has worked with Turkey to deny the Armenian genocide of 1915-23 and to defeat Armenian Genocide affirmation by Congress.
It is a conflict of interest, therefore, for a person with strong ADL ties to sit in judgment of anything Armenian.
Peter Meade — he’s Catholic, not Jewish — is a longtime vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield and travels in Boston’s elite corporate and political circles. He is an outspoken supporter of Israel, whose government has long aligned itself with Turkey in refusing to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Interestingly, Meade was instrumental in getting Blue Cross to fund ADL’s “No Place for Hate” anti-bias programs, which are now mired in scandal because of ADL’s genocide denials. Blue Cross was the first company that ADL certified as “No Place for Hate.”
Why does Meade oppose the Armenian Park? He says that Conservancy policy bans “memorials” on the Greenway. Part of the Armenian Park will, indeed, commemorate both the Armenian Genocide and all genocides.
However, the alleged “no-memorials” policy has never been written down or formalized, and the Mass. Pike itself has no such policy. Indeed, there are or will be many memorials on, next to and near the Greenway.
For example, the Greenway’s Chinatown Park contains the Tiananmen Square Massacre memorial. A memorial for community leader Mary Sou Hou is in the works.
The Greenway’s North End Park has a lengthy Memorial Railing that will honor the neighborhood’s past Irish, Italian, Jewish and other immigrants. Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Brennan is promoting a Mother’s Memorial Walkway with named bricks in the Wharf District Parks.
The Greenway itself memorializes the venerated Kennedy matriarch, while underneath runs the Tip O’Neill tunnel.
Christopher Columbus Park, which abuts the Greenway, contains the Beirut U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, the Frank S. Christian Memorial and the Rose Kennedy Memorial Garden honoring the Gold Star Mothers of WW II.
It looks like the Conservancy’s “no memorials” policy may be a “no Armenians” policy.
Steps from the Greenway are the Holocaust Memorial’s six towers of glass 54 feet high with steam rising from subterranean chambers named after concentration camps. The memorial also commemorates Poles and other victims of Nazi Germany. It is impressive, somber and moving.
Nearby are the 1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Memorial, the Irish Famine Memorial, and other memorials too numerous to mention.
The Armenian Park and a wide-ranging human rights lecture series at Fanueil Hall are permanently endowed by the Massachusetts Armenian community and endorsed by the North End/Waterfront Residents Association.
It has been alleged that the Armenian Park would be out of place as too ethnic. Yet the Greenway’s Chinatown Park will, quite properly, feature various Asian cultural elements, including waterfalls and streams based on Feng Shui.
The New Center, “rooted in Jewish culture,” was designed and funded by Jews. Its director and board are Jewish. Every event it has held thus far, in non-Greenway venues, has centered on a Jewish theme, such as the 1933 Nazi Book Burning. The New Center will surely also be commemorating the Holocaust in many ways, and rightly so.
Thus the Greenway does have ethnic projects.
We forgot to mention that Peter Meade was instrumental in having the world-famous bridge near the northern end of the Greenway named after Lenny Zakim, the late, respected regional ADL director. He also co-chaired its Dedication Committee and is an adviser to the Lenny Zakim Fund. Not surprisingly, Meade has won ADL’s prestigious Chairperson’s Award.
We should also add that national ADL’s recent alleged acknowledgment of the genocide, which implied that Turkey did not intend to kill Armenians, knowingly contravened the UN’s official 1948 definition of genocide.
Peter Meade is an accomplished and generous man, and I am not accusing him or anyone of impropriety. However, a top ADL leader must recuse himself from any matter relating to Armenians. This is unfortunate but necessary.
Meanwhile, the ADL and kindred organizations need to halt their Turkish-organized proxy war against the Armenian people.
David Boyajian lives in Newton.
U.S. and Turkey Thwart Armenian Genocide Bill
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 — With backing from more than half of the House this summer, proponents of a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide were confident that they would finally prevail in their quest for Congressional recognition.
Adding to their optimism, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a longtime backer of the resolution, which had been pushed mainly by her fellow Californians, and was committed to bringing it to a House vote.
But supporters of the measure were not prepared for the vehement opposition of two powerful governments — Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, which historians say conducted the genocide, and the United States, which needs Turkey’s help in Iraq. Their combined resistance caused the resolution to falter, embarrassing the speaker on a high-profile foreign policy front.
On Thursday, supporters surrendered, at least for now, telling Ms. Pelosi they were willing to wait until next year. “We believe that a large majority of our colleagues want to support a resolution recognizing the genocide on the House floor and that they will do so, provided the timing is more favorable,” the four chief sponsors said in a letter to Ms. Pelosi.
The faltering of the push to denounce the genocide illustrates what can happen when domestic politics collide with international affairs and how treacherous that can be for Congressional leaders like Ms. Pelosi, who came under criticism this year for a trip to Syria. It also turned a near triumph into a disappointment for those who believe Congress has a responsibility to send a message on past inhumanities to prevent future ones.
“We certainly thought it would be a very tough fight, but it was a much more lopsided one than we expected,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and a main sponsor of the bill. Once Democrats gained control of Congress in January, supporters of the measure mobilized, seeing a way clear to the final vote that had eluded them because of opposition first from the Clinton administration and then from the Bush White House.
Ms. Pelosi as well as Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the new majority leader, were dedicated proponents of the resolution that would put the House on record as defining the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide. The crisis in Darfur, in Sudan, had raised public consciousness about genocide as well.
“This issue had a constituency, and there was a lot of momentum due to the switch in leadership and Darfur,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
It did not hurt that Armenians are an influential bloc in California, Ms. Pelosi’s home, and that the resolution was a top priority of California House members of both parties, including Mr. Schiff and two other Democrats, Brad Sherman and Anna G. Eshoo. Ms. Eshoo is a lawmaker of Armenian heritage who is a close friend of Ms. Pelosi’s.
Mr. Sherman said the speaker’s decision to pledge a vote by the full House was not about personal relationships but about principle. “You don’t have to have a special relationship with this speaker to get her to be in favor of recognizing genocide,” he said.
While the backers of the resolution pressed ahead, the Turkish government also went to work, hiring a lobbying team to raise concerns about the potential backlash in Turkey if the resolution was approved, particularly when Turkey is a staging ground for the Iraq war.
The Turkish government has resisted the characterization of a genocide, seeing the deaths as among the many tragic losses in a time of brutal conflict. But most of the lobbying against the resolution centered on the need not to antagonize Turkey at a time when it was of crucial strategic value.
Among those carrying that message was Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a close ally of Ms. Pelosi’s, who began warning her in February against the bill.
“I explained what the ramifications were from a military standpoint, but she said she felt compelled to do it,” said Mr. Murtha, who welcomed Thursday’s decision. By midsummer, the advocates had 225 sponsors, more than the minimum of 218 needed to assure passage. But they refrained from pushing for a vote because Turkey was having its own national elections. Instead, they aimed for the fall.
Encouraged to consider the bill, the Foreign Affairs Committee approved it on Oct. 10, but by a relatively narrow 27-to-21 vote, because lawmakers were well aware that the measure could reach the floor this year.
Mr. Bush and the Turkish government intensified their opposition and within days, co-sponsors of both parties began abandoning the resolution.
Ms. Pelosi said it was the responsibility of its backers to secure the needed votes. “This is the legislative process,” she told reporters last week when asked about the furor. Its backers began reassessing their strategy and one result was the letter to the speaker on Thursday.
Even some of Ms. Pelosi’s allies said the bill’s withdrawal, while an embarrassment, may well have averted a larger problem for her had the proposal been approved, setting off problems with Turkey. Advocates of the bill predicted that Congress would eventually regret backing off in the face of a threatened backlash from an ally. “This sets a terrible example,” Mr. Hamparian said.
By Shimon Soferr
GateHouse News Service
Fri Oct 26, 2007, 12:22 PM EDT
Some things in our political culture are destined to never go away. Issues like healthcare, education, social security, abortion, casinos, or the business of other countries are always going to be with us, to alleviate national boredom and at the same time to provide occupational therapy for our otherwise unemployable politicians.
One of these issues is the eternal question of what happened to the Armenians and who did it to them, with emphasis on whether the word “genocide” is politically applicable to the Armenian holocaust as it is to other holocausts. The latest aspect of this question has recently re-emerged in the dispute over how the Anti Defamation League (ADL) ought to relate to the “Armenian Question.” From there the question has found its way to the top level of making decisions for the world. The president himself found it “necessary” to discourage his “fellow Americans” from recognizing as genocide what was done to fellow Armenians.
The beautiful thing about politics, domestic and foreign, national and international, is that truth, though always venerated, is always secondary to “interests,” and always humbly yields to political “reality.” In truth, Armenians were slaughtered en mass by Turks, in 1915. In reality, Armenians were slaughtered en mass by the Turks already in the 1860s and earlier. In other words the Turkish hateful animosity toward the Armenians did not start during or as a result of World War I.
Theodore Herzl, the visionary founder of Zionism, was a talented and influential journalist in Europe. In his diaries he tells of promises made to him in the turn of last century. Turkish business and secret agents approached him, he tells, and offered to intervene with the Sultan, Abdul Hamid, II, in favor of the early Zionists. They were trying to purchase lands for their new country in Palestine. The Sultan, the agents told him, would look at the request sympathetically if he, Herzl, would persuade major newspapers in Europe not to tell their readers about Turkish massacres of Armenians in the 1860s. That is perhaps the Turkey-Armenian-Herzl-Zionism-Jews-ADL-America connection. Quite interestingly, America and Israel both welcomed Armenian refugees and provided them with sanctuaries where no one else would. Just as interestingly, Israel and America are experiencing the same sort of moral hardship in the face of self-imposed diplomatic difficulties to deal truthfully with the truth.
Herzl was not the only one who knew. The Germans, Turkey’s traditional allies, knew. The man who coined the word “genocide” in the 1930, knew. Franz Werfel, who wrote “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” to tell the world, was a German who knew. Armenians who managed to escape the Turkish atrocities told the French, the British, and the Italians, including the Pope. Henry Morgenthau, American Ambassador to Turkey (appointed 1913), who was also chairman of the Greek Refugee Settlement Commission, knew too.
In the political reality of today, however, Turkey still denies its initiation of and contribution to the exercise of genocide they practiced on the Armenians who lived in their midst. We, who know the truth but have “interests,” help them by denying it with them at worst, or by calling it something else at best.
The debate whether to condemn the practice of female circumcision in the Middle East and Africa is very similar to the debate whether to condemn Turkey for the genocide they visited on the Armenians, because world politics is similar to domestic politics. In both, truth, though always extolled, is the eternal subordinate of “interests.” The politicians who worry about condemning Turkey today for the 1915 genocide are the same politicians who were afraid to condemn, in 1980, the practice of female “circumcision,” a condemnation that might have caused our friends and allies in the Middle East and Africa to reflect unfavorably on us.
If we are fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan for freedom, liberty, democracy and justice, why are we so afraid to show the Turks that these values are, at least to us, practically above and beyond political interests and are thus “uncompromisable?” Where does Turkey, no longer the gigantic empire it used to be, take the initiative and find the courage to threaten Israel and the USA with “serious consequences” that might follow our noncompliance with their wishes? How does it come about that Turkey, our ally, talks “diplomatically” to us but treats us with the tyrannous autonomy of the Ottomans? Are we Turkey’s ottoman? How did it come about that in all the years of diplomacy and alliance and mutual interests we still haven’t convinced the Turks that they need us at least as much as we need them, if not more?
Indeed, as our righteous politicians are “forced by reality” to change their votes because of issues of “timing,” the Turks, in front of our eyes, are again picking on another nation of undesirables, this time the Kurds, believed by the Turks to be inferior to them. In other words, the Turks are retaliating by going after another minority group, moving from what was Armenia to what was Kurdistan.
There are those who cite Hitler as having modeled his genocide of the Gypsies and the Jews and the Gays after the example of the world’s reaction to what the Turks did to the Armenians. The world, he said allegedly, did not, or did not care to, remember what the Turks did to the Armenians. We are now 92 years after the Ottomans and Hitler were decisively defeated. And yet, in 2007, we’re still trying to appease countries and leaders who are still thirsty for the blood of others.
We in America elect our officials not only because they know all there is to know about right and wrong, but also because they know precisely the right time for wrong to be right or for right to be wrong. Apparently they have decided not to decide on this issue “at this time.” The Turkish Parliament, at precisely this time, on the other hand, applauds the Turkish legislation to gang on the Kurds who dwell not in Turkey but across Turkish borders in Northern Iraq. The Iraqis now seem to promise the Turks that, in lieu of Turkish invasion of Iraq, the Iraqis will take care for them of the “Kurdish Problem.” Who knows, perhaps there are “right” decisions that can still be made for a wrong war or for a war that has gone wrong.
The ADL is about Anti Defamation, not about Anti Denial and, therefore, its organizational dilemma concerning the genocide of Armenians is understandable. They do not want to defame Turkey, the “indisputable ally” of Israel and America. At the same time they know the truth, but wish not to make too much of it, so their chosen phrase is “tantamount to genocide.”
America, on the other hand, should be able to do a little better, with a little more courage. If we could find that little more courage, we could actually be as decent as we claim we are.
They bow to fears the resolution could harm the U.S. war effort in
Iraq by angering Turkey.
By Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 26, 2007
WASHINGTON — Yielding to fierce diplomatic and political pressure,
congressional sponsors of an Armenian genocide resolution abruptly put
off a vote on the measure Thursday and defused a mounting
confrontation with Turkey that was threatening to hamper the U.S. war
effort in Iraq.
The decision, a swift reversal for the long-debated resolution,
disappointed supporters who two weeks ago were optimistic that the
House would approve it. "We're not going to bring it up until we're
confident we have the votes to pass it," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff
(D-Burbank), who introduced the measure. "It's going to take some
The action extricated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco)
from the clash between a powerful constituency in California and an
important U.S. military ally.
As the measure approached a vote, the Turkish government warned that
the resolution's passage could lead to a rupture in relations and
disrupt U.S. military operations in Iraq. Most of the supplies headed
to U.S. forces in Iraq are flown through Turkey. The issue also came
up as the United States was imploring Turkey not to send forces into
northern Iraq to curb Kurdish rebel attacks.
Republican opponents welcomed the delay and blamed Pelosi for a
miscalculation on an important foreign policy matter. "Fortunately,
the right decision was made before this debacle turned into a
full-blown national security crisis," said Minority Leader John A.
The resolution's backers once counted a majority of the House as
sponsors. When it cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee two
weeks ago, Pelosi pledged to bring it to the floor.
"When it passed out of Foreign Affairs, I thought it was finally going
to happen," said Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), a sponsor of the
resolution, which calls on the president to "accurately characterize
the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as
But support began to ebb as President Bush and Turkey escalated their
warnings and the situation in northern Iraq deteriorated. Two dozen
representatives have withdrawn their support, raising doubts about
whether it could pass.
Supporters said that Pelosi remained committed to the measure and that
they had no choice but to bow to political reality. "If this were to
come up to the floor today, it would be too close to call," said Rep.
Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).
The resolution's backers stressed that they delayed the vote only to
buy time to rebuild political support.
Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), a co-chairman of the Congressional
Caucus on Armenian Issues, who has pressed the resolution for more
than a decade, said he was hopeful. "We have never been anywhere near
this close. Never. I don't think we're going to give up."
In a letter to Pelosi sent Thursday, four of the measure's sponsors
said they would press for passage later this year or next year. "We
believe that a large majority of our colleagues want to support a
resolution recognizing the genocide on the House floor and that they
will do so, provided the timing is more favorable," wrote Reps.
Schiff, Sherman, Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park) and Frank Pallone Jr.
Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National
Committee of America, faxed a letter to every House member,
criticizing Turkey and expressing "disappointment, even anger, that an
ally is so brazenly threatening the security of our troops."
"We are confident that, as the confusion over these threats lifts, an
even stronger bipartisan majority will stand up against Turkey's
intimidation and vote to adopt this human rights resolution on its
merits," he wrote.
The Turkish government disputes that the World War I-era killings of
Armenians by the Ottoman Turks was a genocide, contending that both
Turks and Armenians were casualties of the war, famine and disease.
But historical evidence and authoritative research support the term,
and The Times' policy is to refer to the deaths as genocide.
Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy, who was recalled to Ankara in protest
of the House committee vote but returned last weekend, said in a
statement that he was pleased that the measure was not headed to a
floor vote. "This is a deeply complex and emotional issue that has
caused great anguish among the Turkish people," he said. "We do not
believe it is the role of the U.S. Congress -- or of any legislative
body -- to pass judgment on this historical matter."
Sensoy continued, "It is high time to use our energies to encourage
reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, and normalization between
Turkey and Armenia, something we Turks have been striving to achieve
for a long time."
Armenian American groups were not in a conciliatory mood.
"The true danger to America's interests comes from caving in to
foreign interference in American human rights policy," said Andrew
Kzirian, Western region executive director of Armenian National
Committee of America. "Turkey's threats and intimidation have caused
some members to take a second look. But as the initial fear over
Turkey's threats turns to anger, we're beginning to see a backlash."
Armenian American groups vowed to continue their grass-roots lobbying
campaign for the resolution. Jason P. Capizzi, executive director of
the Armenian-American Political Action Committee, said he understood
the political reality that bringing up the resolution at this time
would be difficult for Schiff and the other sponsors "given Turkey's
continued and desperate threats."
But he also said: "We remain encouraged and confident that this
Congress will reaffirm the U.S. record on the Armenian genocide."
A number of the resolution's supporters said its fate may depend on
circumstances in Turkey and Iraq.
"With Turkey's success to tying this thing to the war in Iraq, it's
going to be tough to disconnect those two," said Radanovich, one of
the resolution's lead sponsors. "But I think they're going to have to
be disconnected before we've got some hope of bringing it back."
The latest setback follows others.
Similar resolutions approved by the House in 1975 and 1984 did not
make it through the Senate. In 2000, a resolution was headed to the
House floor when then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) abruptly
called off the vote because President Clinton warned him that it could
damage national security.
Pelosi's office declined to comment on the decision other than to say
that she was deferring to the wishes of the sponsors.
Despite admonitions from top administration officials, the Turkish
prime minister and former secretaries of State, Pelosi, a longtime
supporter of the resolution, insisted a week and a half ago that she
would bring it to a vote.
Last week, however, as a number of Democratic colleagues urged her not
to, she sounded uncertain.
Radanovich said he supported delaying a vote, but he declined to sign
the letter. Asserting that Pelosi had decided on her own not to bring
the resolution to a vote, he said: "It's not in my interest to give
cover to the speaker."
John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna
College, said Pelosi had pressed House members further than they
wanted to go, "so she had to back off. The episode is far from fatal,
but it suggests that she is still struggling to master the job."
The resolution has been strongly opposed by the Bush administration.
After the committee vote, the administration and Turkey, aided by
lobbyists, stepped up efforts to persuade the House to deep-six the
Bush and military leaders personally called lawmakers.
Turkey's top general said House passage of the resolution would
rupture U.S. relations with one of its most reliable allies in the
At the same time, deadly cross-border raids by Kurdish rebels into
Turkey have inflamed public opinion in the country, which has accused
the United States and Iraq of not doing enough to stem the attacks.
The Turkish parliament overwhelmingly granted the government
permission to invade northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish insurgents.
Kurdish rebels ambushed a Turkish army patrol Sunday, killing at least
12 soldiers and raising the possibility of a Turkish incursion, which
could destabilize the safest region in Iraq.
Sherman said that the high-profile Turkish campaign to kill the
resolution gave its supporters a victory of sorts: "The purpose of the
resolution is to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide. Thanks to
the Turkish Embassy, we have been spectacularly successful."
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, sits down with JTA's managing editor to discuss his new book, the 'mamzer' in Iran and other hot-button issues.
The following is an edited transcript of an interview conducted last month with the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, about his new book, "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and The Myth of Jewish Control." During the interview with JTA, Foxman discussed criticisms of Israel and Jewish groups put forth by former President Jimmy Carter and scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. He also addressed the controversy over his initial refusal to use the word genocide to describe the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.
JTA: Why did you write the book?
FOXMAN: When Mearsheimer and Walt's article appeared, what I was very much concerned about was that it would give this whole issue of Jewish power, Jewish control, Jewish influence, Israel lobby, etc., a sense of credibility that it has never had in the U.S., except for maybe before World War II. My concern was that it would stimulate discussion in the mainstream -- which it did the moment the article appeared -- and that for the years to come it will become a resource for universities, primarily for every course in government, every course in foreign policy, to use as a point of departure, and that there was not much else out there.
So the motivation was that audience. It's not to convince the Jews but to convince others.
In Davos in January, there was a professor from MIT who I happened to be sitting next to. When he found out who I was, he said, "Do you mind, could we talk and you won't take this personally. I'm a professor of physics, I spent a lot of time studying science. I've been hearing all this stuff about this Israel lobby, this Jewish lobby. Is it true? How much of it is true?" So we spent about an hour-and-a-half in a coffee shop, and he said to me, "You could do us a service, there are a lot of people like me who aren't sure, we don't have time." So that reinforced in me the idea that there needs to be that kind of book.
Were you concerned that given the attacks on you in recent years, that people would take aim at the messenger and ignore the message?
Now it's my book, and I come with baggage. We all come with baggage. OK.
But the answer is no, not at all, no hesitancy whatsoever. I still believe I have credibility. I think the book adds credibility. It's not hysterical; it's rational, reasonable. I didn't hesitate for a moment. I wish others would do it, still plenty of time for others to do it.
I've been asked am I not making it more of an issue by writing a book, by confronting the issue. So I've asked journalists if I wasn't there, if I didn't write it, would you still cover it. And they said yes.
Before the ADL adopted its position in support of U.S. action in Iraq, were you lobbied by the administration? What were the forces at work as your organization was trying to figure out its position?
It's primarily an internal discussion. When we interact on the Middle East with the administration, there is a give-and-take on issues, policies, priorities. And it's not a secret that the administration would come and try to explain how it all fits in. All you have to do is read the public statements, the president's speeches, the secretary of state's speeches, the national security adviser's speeches, where they saw it as part of the struggle against terrorism, on which certainly the Jewish community saw eye to eye with the administration and continues to see eye to eye. Whether it's the best way to fight terrorism or the second best way, that's their decision, but certainly there was a commonality of interest that America needs to stand up, as Israel has stood up. So it was more in the context of terrorism rather than in the specifics of war.
In your book you write that "in the American tradition, we hold that the best remedy for 'bad' speech is not cencorship but more speech," and denied that you pressured the Polish Consulate in New York to cancel a lecture by New York University Professor Tony Judt. At the same time, you did not criticize the American Jewish Committee for doing just that, and you defended the right of Jewish groups to take such steps. Are you trying to have it both ways?
They're not wrong. It's their expression of freedom of speech. When Mearsheimer and Walt now say its censorship when groups cancel them -- my foot. Groups have a right to do it, we have a right to say we don't want to hear you. The fact that a place does not select them or changes its mind does not mean it's a restriction of freedom of speech. I have also said time and time again that we don't engage in boycotts, we don't support boycotts, we do not encourage boycotts, we think boycotts are contrary not only to freedom of speech but to our own tradition. We Jews have been subject to boycotts and continue to be subject to boycotts, but does that mean that I have to go out and chastise people who are out there expressing their freedom of speech?
From a strategic perspective, is it a mistake to lobby for the cancellation of objectionable speakers? You write that you would not have told the Polish Consulate to cancel the talk, so by implication was it wrong for David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, to do so?
I didn't criticize Committee, I defended myself. I got a rap of being accused of what I didn't do. By the way, there were people who were critical, asking why didn't I do it. David Harris is entitled. I would not do it. I think it is wrong. He has a different relationship with the Polish government; one needs to take a look at that. From his perspective, I think he was trying to do them a favor. He had just gotten an award from the Polish government, they have a representative in Poland, they have a lot invested in the Polish-Jewish relationship, a lot more than we do, and what he saw was this would embarrass them, undermine Polish-Jewish relations, undermine Committee-Polish relations. I understand where he went; I wouldn't do it. I didn't have that investment. I'm Polish born, that's enough for me.
Had the consul general called me and asked me what to do, I would have given him advice. Had he called me originally I would have said set up another speaker, either at the same event or at another time. I wouldn't have told him to cancel. I would have told him to announce that a week or two weeks from now you will host somebody with the other point of view.
In countering Mearsheimer and Walt with your own book, you took the exact approach that critics of the Jewish community would want. Yet when The New York Times first wrote about the issue in August, the story wasn't about your book versus their book, it was about Jewish institutions being pressured into canceling events with Mearsheimer and Walt. So didn't the approach of trying to keep them out backfire?
But that's not accurate. They're hyping their book. This is the oldest trick in the book, to buzz a book before it even comes out. They want to sell a book, they don't want to debate it. They're entitled, but don't complain.
I am concerned about intimidation. Jews were not that vocal on Iraq because they didn't think it was their issue. I think we were pleased, pleased that there is no Saddam Hussein who was sending checks to suicide bombers, who politically, if not militarily, was supporting the worst in the Palestinian movement. But we were not out in front.
Iran was the much greater concern to Israel. Iraq was not an existential threat to Israel. Iran is an existential threat. My concern is that this whole effort is to stifle us, to shut us up on this issue. That is of concern because I think we should speak up on Iran. We didn't speak up on Iraq because it really wasn't our issue. But they're trying to put the blame on us, which I think is very detrimental because I worry that the Jewish community will now be hesitant to speak out where it is imperative that we speak out. Yes, Iran is a threat to the globe. Yes, Iran is a threat to the Gulf. Yes, Iran is a threat to Europe. But first and foremost that mamzer [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] says, "I will destroy the State of Israel, I will wipe the Jewish state off of the face of the map."
At the end of the book you encourage Jews who disagree with Israel-related issues to engage the community, to weigh in with their opinions. But if you, the director of the ADL, can get attacked for inviting Thomas Friedman to speak, doesn't the average left-wing Jew have a point when he complains that communal leaders just don't want to hear any criticism of Israel?
There is still an effort out there to shut me up, and if they can shut me up, they can shut the Jewish community up. The New York Times tried to do it by calling me hysterical, by calling me an Al Sharpton. They tried to intimidate me to the extent that I do stand up on behalf on the Jewish community, and that's very, very serious.
But two problems can exist at the same time. If people in the general society are trying to silence the Jewish community, that doesn't change the fact that some elements of the Jewish community are trying to silence others.
Absolutely. We have to fight both. One doesn't justify the other.
Do groups need to do a better job of defending the ability of people to express criticisms?
I fought a fight against extremism in the Jewish community, whether it was Meir Kahane or my rabbi [who issued harsh condemnations of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination], and I did it alone. I did it not only because I believed that it was right, but if we don't do it, we have no credibility. We're not immune to being extreme. And we woke up very tragically to how non-immune we are when Rabin was killed. When I spoke about it before, it's because I understand that when we say words can kill, we're not exempt, we don't have a vaccine that words only kill if they're from someone else but not from us. But the truth is there weren't many people standing up.
How do you go about criticizing President Jimmy Carter of Mel Gibson -- and if it's the case, suggest that they are in danger of engaging in anti-Semitism -- without alienating the tens of millions of fair-minded people who identify with them? Is there an effective way to address such issues in a way that would seem less confrontational?
That's not a luxury that we have. Here again it's that thin line. When you say Mr. X engaged in anti-Semitism, the first time that they do it you can say it's ignorance, it's insensitivity. But when you say to them that they are engaging in anti-Semitism when they say the Jews control the media and the Jews control universities, and when they repeat it the second time, the third time and the fourth time, are you or are you not an anti-Semite?
By raising the specter of anti-Semitism, do you end up turning people against you?
There is no choice. There is no choice. There is no choice. We can't euphemize it. We have to understand that they are using it as a weapon against us to keep us quiet. Why is it you can call somebody a racist, no one says you are stifling debate? You can call somebody a homophobe, you can call somebody anti-Hispanic and no one says you're stifling debate.
It's not an exact science. If we controlled the media, it would be much easier.
Critics say you helped Mel Gibson with your criticisms of him and "The Passion." Could you have taken a different approach?
Those who are honest on this issue will know that I didn't make the issue, he made the issue. He made the issue. Anybody who really cares will examine where I was and where we were. Read my first letter to him. Read what happened when somebody sent us the script. We didn't say "we got it, we got it."
Is there any lesson that you take away from the controversy?
I know I did everything that I could to avoid a public confrontation. I'm not a fool, I know who he is, I know the celebrity image that he has, but so did he. He knew exactly what he was doing. Do I want to confront Jimmy Carter? No, but he's a former president of the United States, he's not any jerk who calls Israel apartheid. He's a former president of the United States. You can't ignore what he says about Jews.
People would say to me, '"Why you worried about Imus? Why are you bothering?" And I said excuse me, presidents go on Imus, senators, every intellectual in this country goes on Imus, he has a credibility, and when he says something anti-Semitic we can't just roll over and say it's Imus, you can't. Did he attack me? Sure. But I don't have the luxury. I have to see it in terms of who they are, what influence they have.
In the same respect, people say why are you challenging Billy Graham? Well, because Billy Graham had the ear of presidents for 40 years, and he was an anti-Semite, no longer an anti-Semite, but he was all those years, and he had presidents' ears. So we don't have this luxury to say, "Well, you know, it's going to turn some people off." It will. It may. It's not a perfect world.
During the past year The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine published several stories, including a profile of you, that could be read as suggesting that Jewish groups are not credible.
It's not just a New York Times problem. When my son came back from Harvard for the first time, he said, "Dad, you have a real job ahead of you." I asked why. He said, "I was in the room with seven other first years, all non-Jews. Any time there is a question about yiddishkeit, Judaism, they turn to me and I'm the Gospel. But when the subject of Israel comes up, I have no credibility because I'm Jewish."
So what do you do about that?
You worry about your credibility. You don't get intimidated, and everyday you make this '"cheshbon" [you take stock]. And to me, the one thing that haunts me is my credibility because that's all we got.
At the end of the day, though, The New York Times Magazine runs a major profile of you suggesting that you exaggerate the threats against Israel and the Jewish people. Even though you've been harshly criticized by conservatives for slamming the religious right, the magazine portrayed you as someone who believes evangelicals should get a free pass on domestic issues because of their support of Israel. Is there anything you can do about that?
It says something. The Anti-Defamation League is 94 years old; 94 years. I think we've done some things. The New York Times never did a profile; this is the first time. And when I got the phone call from [writer James Traub], I asked how come you're doing a profile. He said it's about Tony Judt. I said you're going to do a piece about me about something I didn't do. He said, "We'll see."
I don't think they destroyed my credibility. I think they tried, but I don't think they succeeded.
It is not just the writer. This is a newspaper that did not cover adequately the Holocaust because of a conscious decision that people not think that it was Jewish. This is a newspaper that consciously decided not to support the Jewish state so that people would not accuse them of double loyalty. And this is a newspaper that said to a managing editor, you want to be managing editor, you'd better not have a name "Abe," you'd better call yourself A.M. Rosenthal. So this is the newspaper that after 94 years of the Anti-Defamation League being in business, comes to write a piece about my pinky ring. So I'm sorry, it's not just an individual, it's a worldview.
Are you more worried about your credibility than you were 10 years ago?
I am more worried about what's going on out there. I am worried that whether Jews are loyal in America is today a mainstream debate. That worries me an awful lot. It worries me that a former president can get up there and say all over America that the Jews control the media. That's what worries me.
It's not Pat Buchanan and David Duke. We live with that, we can deal with that. It's when it crosses over. It's not ignoramuses. That's what's scary.
Is it my credibility? I know I weigh and measure every time I speak out because I woke up one day to realize that I've come to a certain stage with this organization that people listen to what I say. It's a very awesome realization, it's a very scary thing. The responsibility of knowing that people listen to your words is awesome. It's not for me, it's for the safety and security of the Jewish people. I do know one thing -- that before I do speak, I do a very serious "cheshbon hanefesh" [personal accounting]. That doesn't mean my judgment is always correct. So frequently when you speak, you are only responding to what you know at that moment.
I had this situation with "60 Minutes" many years ago. I'll never forget it. This was the rock-throwing incident at Har Habayit [the Temple Mount]. "60 Minutes" did a reportage which was so ugly, so disgusting in my view, I wrote a public letter, chastised Don Hewitt and "60 Minutes." Six months later an Israeli investigative panel came to a conclusion that made "60 Minutes" correct. I wrote a letter to Don Hewitt and I said I apologize to you and Mike Wallace because we were wrong and you were right. And if you wish to use this letter publicly, you may. He called me and said are you for real? I said yeah. He said in 20 years no one ever apologized. I got clobbered by the Jewish community.
I don't believe that all my judgments are correct, and when I'm wrong I'm ready to get up there and say I'm wrong. Again, because it's about credibility. We have nothing else. And for the people who say I do this for the media, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you have something to say and you're credible, they are going to come and ask you again.
In the book you write, "Criticism that condemns Israel simply for existing and implies that the only way Israel can satisfy its critics is by disappearing is not legitimate." So if opposing Israel's existence crosses the line, does it cross the line to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state?
Do I go after every Arab and Palestinian who says no to a Jewish existence? No, we talk about the concept. We've taken on racism in Israel, Jews who have expressed the thought that there is no room for Arabs. I criticized Jerry Falwell when he said horrendous things to Pat Robertson about Islam, just like I criticized Robertson when he said that Ariel Sharon was punished by God because he gave up Eretz Israel. I don't shy away from being critical of our own. On the other hand, the enemy is bigger out there than it is within.
Did you do anything wrong in the controversy over whether to describe as genocide the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks?
I didn't do anything wrong. I miscalculated. We said it is a massacre, an atrocity, we've said it for 40 years. The Armenians wanted us to say genocide. To me it was sufficient for us to say I'm not a historian, we don’t adjudicate all the issues. What I miscalculated was the Jewish community. I respect the Armenian community for wanting their memory, their pain, their suffering to be recognized globally in the most sensitive way or the most meaningful way. So we said it is an atrocity and it is massacre, but we just don't think that Congress should adjudicate it. What I did not suspect was where the Jewish community was.
I was shocked, upset, frightened by the fact that this was an issue where Jews were attacking us. It's one thing for the federation director or the CRC director or for Jewish pundits to support the Armenian position, but to criticize us, to organize against us, that shocked me.
I think there are two things going on out there. We are a community in transition. I believe in Hillel, I think this agency is an expression of the Hillel thesis [If I am only for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?] In fact, our founding fathers had this vision in 1915, to defend the Jewish people and to protect the right of all individuals. But there is one and two. To me it was very clear, there are moral imperatives here -- the moral imperative to feel somebody else's pain, to recognize their anguish, and the moral imperative which is the safety and the security of the Jewish community.
I don't believe that the Turkish government tomorrow will go and take it out on the Jews. But the Turkish Jewish community came to the United States, met with Jewish representatives and asked them to transmit a letter on this issue. It was very clear to me what the interests of the Jewish community in Turkey are. It was also very clear to me that after the United States, the most important ally Israel has is Turkey. It's a country that not only has promised to provide Israel with water until moshiach comes, but it's a country that permits Israel's pilots to do maneuvers over its land. And so, to me, it was very clear that there are two moral issues, but one trumps the other. And it was clear to me that I cannot save one Armenian human being, not one. But if I do what the Armenians want me to do, I will put in jeopardy the lives of Turkish Jews and Israeli Jews.
What I didn’t realize was to what extent the American Jewish community has reversed Hillel, or at least in Boston and Massachusetts. That comes out of a changed demography, sociology. When we talk about assimilation, when we talk about intermarriage -- you know what, that's what it is.
So that's one thing I misread. Two, I misread something else: Israel is no longer as significant. Some of this stuff I read and hear about in Boston was, "Why do we have to sacrifice our relationship with our Armenian friends and neighbors for Israel?" I heard people say to me if the [Jews in Turkey] are in trouble, let them leave. That's what I miscalculated.
Then I turned around and I got made fun of for it, and said we need unity now because Iran is a threat, Hamas is a threat, Hezbollah is a threat, anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America. The last thing we need now is for [Boston Jewish leaders] Barry Shrage and Nancy Kaufman to be fighting us.
Given your concerns about Turkey, why did you reverse yourself on the use of the word genocide?
I need, you need, we need a strong unified Jewish community to help Israel. And if we begin splittering …
I gave for the greater purpose so that we can now sit and talk together. It almost destroyed our operation in Boston. And in the greater scheme of things, to go from massacres and atrocities to genocide, OK.
You know what, I've had sleepless nights about it.