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Israel, Armenians and the question of genocide

When Israel remembers the Holocaust, why does it think only of Jews?

History has proven time and again that the Jews are not unique for having suffered genocidal policies. The many debates about preventing such tragedies have so far not helped populations that suffered mass killings and expulsions, with intent to destroy them for their national, religious or ethnic identity – even in recent decades. Therefore the politicization of the Armenian genocide in Israel in the context of Israel-Turkey relations, described with great eloquence by Akiva Eldar in al-Monitor, is not only wrong; it calls into question whether Israel is truly committed to “never again” when it comes to people who are not Jews.

In fact, Jews need not look outside their own community to understand the categorical need to universalize the awful lessons of the Holocaust. Eldar points out that one of the greatest advocates of this position was himself a victim:

The man who coined the term genocide and fought for adoption of the treaty [1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide - ds] was the Jewish-Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, whose entire family was annihilated in the Holocaust. He himself managed to flee to the United States. Lemkin referred specifically to the Armenian annihilation as an act of genocide. This position was never adopted by Israeli governments. The official Israeli position was summed up in 2001 in an interview by then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres with the Turkish Daily News: “The Armenians suffered a tragedy,” he said, “but not genocide.”

Tragically, Eldar’s description of the feeling many Knesset members hold towards this question mirrors what I feel in Israeli society:

For them, any attempt to hint that other peoples were also persecuted and massacred for racist reasons is considered “disrespect for the Holocaust” (they themselves, on the other hand, often use the term “Holocaust,” especially to scare the Israeli public with the Iranian threat). They do not define the Armenian genocide as a human-Jewish-ethical issue.

To the argument that recognition of the Armenian experience threatens very immediate political needs related to Turkey, I hope that Turkish leaders and people see it differently. Remembering horrors suffered by others would say more about Israel’s values than it does about Turkey. Anyone can commit terrible crimes against innocents, Jews included. I wish for a country that rises above its own trauma to recall, support and help victims anywhere.

I can scarcely believe this needs to be said, but apparently it bears repeating: we must acknowledge that all human beings are at risk of falling victims to genocidal acts, or of perpetrating such acts themselves. The same people can be in both positions. To deny this seems to me as awful and dangerous as Holocaust denial itself.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Arieh

      “History has proven time and again that the Jews are not unique for having suffered genocidal policies.”

      What a relief. And here I was thinking that the Holocaust was unique. But now that I know that it wasn’t, it all feels better now and more acceptable.

      Thank you Dahlia for setting the record straight.

      Reply to Comment
    2. We have as well the American Middle Passage, Indian Removal, and least we not be too self focused, the Soviet Gulag, which undoubtedly succeeded at several genocides or label equivalent forms (like the kulacks).

      Family is important, Arieh, but so many people their own.

      Reply to Comment
      • Nelson Barley

        Please don’t forget the 6-10 million Ukrainians murdered by Joseph Stalin in 1932.

        Reply to Comment
    3. XYZ

      Meanwhile, at this very moment, horrible atrocities are taking place in Syria, with the active outside help of Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in addition to others, and yet it for many 972 commentors, it is forbidden to talk about because it is “changing the subject”. The Armenian genocide was almost 100 years ago, the Syrian horrors are occurring RIGHT NOW and yet I don’t hear any call to do anything about it….wait a minute, the HADASH party, which at least some of the 972 members voted for, SUPPORTS Assad’s killing machine.
      So much for “progressives” concern for human rights!

      Reply to Comment
      • Sarah Katz

        Indeed, I am a Jew who certainly considers the Armenian tragedy as a genocide by the Turks. Moreover, all of the Jewish people I know recognize this event as a holocaust. It seems that these 972 writers seek to distract the public with discourse over historical events which, while very important, are meant to draw attention from the current atrocities in the Middle East, such as Iran, Syria, Egypt and several Gulf States. Again, we have radical Leftists pointing fingers at Israel when, in fact, the latter is one of the few countries in the Middle East that has never committed an ethnic cleansing.

        Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        That posting is from almost a year ago. Tens of thousands of people have died since then. What has 972 and, most particularly the HADASH party which at least some 972 people support have done to stop it and more particularly to have HADASH stop one-sidedly supporting Assad’s murder machine, including what the Americans now reluctantly admit is the use of poison gas against civilians? I certainly understand 972′s and the other “progressives” reluctance to do any thing but that is no excuse.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joe

          Of course, there are conflicts nobody talks about – for example Western Sahara. Want to run down the atrosities there for us, xyz? Or do you only know about Syria?

          I might well be proved wrong, but I’m not sure the conflict in Syria meets the criteria for a genocide. Bloody civil war, yes. Mass murder of innocents because they are the wrong religion/ethnic group? I’m not sure. No doubt xyz will enlighten me as he is the fount of all knowledge on the subject.

          Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            XYZ, just one minor mistake you made there…
            ‘Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’
            Surely you are completely aware that Saudi Arabia and th Gulf States have been supplying the Free Syria Army since last year with weapons and aid? China, Russia and Iran are supplying Assad (although I think China has removed itself from the situation and Iran is also slowly doing so and trying to support a militia there).

            Kind of shows XYZ, that your interest in Syria is to detract from criticism of Israel policies, otherwise you would have known that the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia have been trying to push America to intervene, supplying the Free Syrian Army with weapons and other aid and trying to bring action through the Arab League and the UN.

            Joe, Syria doesn’t meet the criteria for genocide as Assad’s aim of his brutal killing machine is not to completely wipe off a group of people but to keep hold on his power. Sort of like Mao’s Cultural Revolution where he was responsible for over 10s of millions of people, but it is not genocide because his sole purpose was to keep power. Of course doesn’t make it any less horrible.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Syria doesn’t meet the criteria for genocide as Assad’s aim of his brutal killing machine is not to completely wipe off a group of people but to keep hold on his power.

            Highly questionable remark.

            In Syria there is one ethic-religious group which is holding power – Alawites. Obviously, should they loss the power, they will face genocide.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            ‘Highly questionable remark.

            In Syria there is one ethic-religious group which is holding power – Alawites. Obviously, should they loss the power, they will face genocide.’

            Alawites are not an ethnic group though.
            I don’t disagree what is going on in Syria is brutal and there is a systematic machine to purge opposition groups.. but it is not necessarily based on an ethnic association because some Assad supporters are Sunnis and Christians, while some FSA are Shia and Christian. In addition, there is no evidence that that there is a systematic regime to purge 85% of the population, but rather opposition groups. Both sides have accused each other of inciting sectarianism.

            However, the UN commitees have warned that it could escalate into genocide, but so far there is no evidence. In addition, the UN officials have warned there could be reprisals for Alawites when Assad falls.
            http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43830#.UX1XO7WLCSo

            Again, the Syrian civil war does not fit in the genocide characteristics (Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination). What Assad is doing to his people is a massacre, no doubt about that, but genocide is specifically referred to a deliberate and systematic massacre of one particular ethnic group (such as the Holocaust, Rwanda, etc).

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            There is also a very important issue when charging a crime with genocide… which is the ‘intent’ to exterminate an entire ethnic group. Assad has made no declarations about any ethnic group, nor does there seem to be a lot of evidence on system with the intent of exterminating all the Shia population.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            That is precisely the point I am trying to make….I am saying those arming BOTH sides are all responsible for the mass killing, not just Assad’s side. I am asking why “progressives” and other human rights activists are not advocating stopping the killing, I am NOT advocating anyone taking sides. Actions could be protests and/or boycotts of Russia and China and the Saudis until they stop arming their respective sides and until they start working for a cease-fire and negotiations to end the war. Why in heaven’s name is it so difficult for the “progressives” who are always screaming about human rights here to do these things? I do know the reason and I have stated it before

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            XYZ, you are free to start your own movement to boycott the US, China, and Russia. Again, as I’ve mentioned in another post, if you want discussions, debates and news surrounding Syria, then I would suggest visiting blogs and news sites focused on Syria. This magazine is very clear that its purpose is to discuss life and politics in Israel and Palestine. You and I don’t know what any of the contributors do in their personal life regarding Syria. But if you are as passionate about Syria, then maybe you should start your own blog about Syria?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            I’d have absolutely no problem decrying the Saudi regime (which is disgusting) or protesting against countries supplying arms to all sides in Syria (and, you know, I’ve been on more protest marches than I can count on numerous issues)- so for once I agree with your sentiment here, xyz. And I’d probably agree that the Syria situation is muddy and that too few people are coming down against violence rather than opting for least-worst alternatives. I think you should write a piece explaining your pacifist inclinations and the hypocracy on the right (and left if you like) on Syria. And that 972 should print it.

            What I don’t support is your suggestion that because really bad things are going on in Syria (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic or anywhere else), that means that one cannot look at what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Injustice is injustice. To our shame, perhaps, we don’t care enough about Djabuti and Western Sahara. But that doesn’t mean we’re wrong about the Palestinians.

            Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            And to finish that thought – because bad things happen in a given country, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t focus on another country (our own or another). There is no logic in that position.

            Reply to Comment
    4. The Trespasser

      “I hope that Turkish leaders and people see it differently.”

      Israel had not recognized Armenian Genocide SOLELY due to Turkeys fierce opposition.

      Regretfully, Israel is not able to completely ignore interests of Turkey, for obvious reasons.

      The 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey are widely recognized as genocide in Israel, an Israeli cabinet minister said after visiting the genocide memorial in Yerevan on Friday.
      http://www.armenia.co.il/en/news/armenian-genocide-widely-recognized-in-israel.html

      Reply to Comment
    5. Vadim

      You do understand that Israel, Israelis and Jews are three different things, right? And that something may be generally accepted but still not officially acknowledged?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      The annoying thing is that the same people that demand that Jews recognize that ethnic cleansing happens elsewhere are the same ones that loudly reject the possibility that it can happen to us or that we should be concerned about such a possibility in the future. The same people that are upset that Jews have internalized the possibility that the worst nightmares can come true will pontificate endlessly about how it shouldn’t impact Israeli policy.

      Interestingly the same people that demand that we universalize the lessons of the Shoah refuse to accept that other universal lesson of the Shoah – that no one interferes in genocides in order to actually stop genocides. When interventions come they come due to strategic motivations. The universal lesson is that we must be able to defend ourselves because no one else will do it for us (where ‘we’ is every group).

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        I know of very few people who will say Israel doesn’t have the right to defend itself if someone is actually attacking it.

        The problem is that Israel uses the “defending itself” as an excuse for aggression.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The people you probably know wouldn’t be able to come up with a single reasonable scenario where they would accept Israel as having exercised its right to self-defense and would proceed to decry every Israeli action, including existence, as being in one way or another, aggression.

          Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            I can’t really see how one could describe Israeli actions as defensive but Palestinian actions as offensive.

            Would you think the same way if it was a Jewish community that was living in military controlled semi-state (such as the Palestinian Authority controlled area)?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            Or to put it another way – if Jews had used suicide missions to fight back out of a famous twentieth century ghetto, would that have been appropriate or inappropriate?

            To be clear – I don’t think that violence aids the Palestinian cause. But one cannot claim that they have no reason to fight back.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Or to put it another way – if Jews had used suicide missions to fight back out of a famous twentieth century ghetto, would that have been appropriate or inappropriate?

            You can’t really compare this cases.
            Jews had never carried attacks against Germans, while Palestinian Arabs are kept in ghettos STRICTLY because they reject to coexist peacefully.

            >To be clear – I don’t think that violence aids the Palestinian cause. But one cannot claim that they have no reason to fight back.

            Whom exactly did they fought back in 1834, 1920 and 1929?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >I can’t really see how one could describe Israeli actions as defensive but Palestinian actions as offensive.

            Rather simply.
            1 – Arabs, Palestinian and other want Jews dead or gone, while Jews only want to have some homeland.

            2 – Arabs, Palestinian and other, had unleashed violence agains Jews LONG before there was a state of Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            >You can’t really compare this cases.
            Jews had never carried attacks against Germans, while Palestinian Arabs are kept in ghettos STRICTLY because they reject to coexist peacefully.

            Correct me if I am wrong, but I understood that it is a source of national shame that Jews did not fight back more against their oppressors. I thought that was the source of the ‘never again’ sentiment. I don’t understand the difference – you’re just giving the Jewish people the right to self defence (and offensive military action) that you are saying that the Palestinians can never have.

            >Whom exactly did they fought back in 1834, 1920 and 1929?

            That is an odd thing to say. Who exactly was the Stern Gang fighting? I’m not (and would never) claim that the Palestinians are justified to do absolutely anything at any time. I don’t need to justify stupid actions in the early twentieth century.

            >1 – Arabs, Palestinian and other want Jews dead or gone, while Jews only want to have some homeland.

            How do you know this? How do you know that the Palestinians don’t just want to have their land back and their rights respected? How do you know that they are not prepared to share the land peacefully based on the 1967 green line? And equally, how can you not see that many of them see have the equal and opposite opinion of Israel – with reason (military incursions, limits on movement, land seizures, etc)?

            >2 – Arabs, Palestinian and other, had unleashed violence agains Jews LONG before there was a state of Israel.

            True. Many of us have shameful histories of violence against Jews. But I don’t see you using that as an excuse to come and take my home in Europe based on a 2000 year old land claim.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Correct me if I am wrong, but I understood that it is a source of national shame that Jews did not fight back more against their oppressors.

            Jews could not fight against oppressors because Jews had no army or militia, which is why the Jewish state became a necessity.

            National shame? I’m unaware of any such shame.

            >I thought that was the source of the ‘never again’ sentiment.

            The source of the sentiment is the fact that few millions of civilian population were meticulously exterminated and no one gave a damn.

            >I don’t understand the difference – you’re just giving the Jewish people the right to self defence (and offensive military action) that you are saying that the Palestinians can never have.

            The difference is very basic. Jews want to live and let live, while Palestinians do not want Jews to live.

            >Whom exactly did they fought back in 1834, 1920 and 1929?

            That is an odd thing to say. Who exactly was the Stern Gang fighting?

            What is odd? Arabs were never attacked until 1940′s, so who did they fought back?

            >1 – Arabs, Palestinian and other want Jews dead or gone, while Jews only want to have some homeland.

            How do you know this?

            How do I know? Simple. How many Arab pro-peace websites/facebook pages are there? And how many Jewish pro-peace websites/facebook pages?
            How many Arab websites and facebook pages are calling for the genocide of Jews?
            How many Jewish websites/facebook pages are calling for the genocide of Arabs?

            Count by yourself.

            >How do you know that the Palestinians don’t just want to have their land back and their rights respected?

            Because:
            1 – The land in question never belonged solely to Palestinian Arabs
            2 – They did not respected right of Jews until were forced by overwhelming power.

            >How do you know that they are not prepared to share the land peacefully based on the 1967 green line?

            Because:
            1 – They were not prepared to share WHOLE land peacefully in 1919
            2 – They were not prepared to share more than 50% of land in 1947
            3 – They will not forfeit the RoR
            4 – They won’t let refugees to resettle in the future Palestinian state.

            >And equally, how can you not see that many of them see have the equal and opposite opinion of Israel – with reason (military incursions, limits on movement, land seizures, etc)?

            They have the very same opinion ever since 1860′s or so.
            Their opinion is well known and of very little concern.

            >2 – Arabs, Palestinian and other, had unleashed violence against Jews LONG before there was a state of Israel.

            True. Many of us have shameful histories of violence against Jews. But I don’t see you using that as an excuse to come and take my home in Europe based on a 2000 year old land claim.

            Jews had no intentions to cleanse Arabs until it became clear (in late 1947) that Arabs won’t let Jews live in Palestine.

            Taking your home is not quite right of an example.

            A better example would be if a group of people relocate – legally, mind you – to area nearby your house, but you just can’t stand them being here and carry out attacks against them. Having home somewhere does not quite grant you a right to not let anyone else have a home somewhere nearby.

            Reply to Comment
          • Joe

            The settlements are not legal and Jerusalem is disputed. Hence this is a nonsense comment. The thing you don’t seem to want to accept is that the vast majority of Palestinians accept an Israel inside the 1967 borders.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The settlements are not legal and Jerusalem is disputed. Hence this is a nonsense comment.

            I haven’t mentioned settlements or Jerusalem.

            >The thing you don’t seem to want to accept is that the vast majority of Palestinians accept an Israel inside the 1967 borders.

            1 – There is no such thing as 1967 borders.
            2 – I’m not aware of existence of any even remotely significant Palestinian group which would be willing to accept Israel within 1949 armistice lines AND forfeit the RoR. You are welcome to prove me wrong. Links to few Palestinian websites promoting this idea would suffice.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Trying to prevent your civilian population from being blown up by Palestinian suicide bombers certainly sounds to me like a defensive operation. Are you really trying to argue that Palestinian suicide bombers trying to murder the maximum number of women and children is a defensive move?

            Reply to Comment
    7. Baghdassarian

      “Pregnant women were eviscerated, their stomachs cut open with swords and their babies ripped out, thrown against the rocks. These I saw with my own eyes…” Khanum Palootzian

      Reply to Comment
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