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My intended* Lecture at "Pro Armenia" Conference

Senior lecturer
The Open University of Israel
Kibbutzim College of Education

I do not know what are the origins for the title "Pro Armenia", of this Conference. I do know that there are at least two documents written by Jews from Palestine in 1915-1916 entitled "Pro Armenia". The authors were members of Nili - a Jewish pro-British spy group, and they expressed an empathic identification with the Armenian tragedy and solidarity with it. One was written by Avshalom Feinberg in November 1915. In his intelligence report intended for a British intelligence officer in Cairo, there appears a "Pro-Armenian" section voicing a bitter cry that the British and the Christian world were not helping the Armenians, and a feeling of impotence over his own ability to help them.

The second document was written by the leader of the Nili Group, Aaron Aaronson. He tried to help the Armenians until his mysterious death in May 1919. The most important documentation among all the reports and documents and the diary he left - in my opinion - was his intelligence report "Pro Armenia." He submitted that report to the British War Office in November 1916. The British related to the document with high regard and it was sent to the highest levels after being edited and summarized and having its title changed to "The Turkish Treatment of Armenians." Aaronson's report dealt with the key questions relating to the imminent emergence of genocide (even though that precise term was not yet in use) such as: who knew about it, which part of the Turkish population had participated in the destruction, the role of the Germans in the genocide, a critical reading of the Lepsius account, how the Powers reacted, etc. In this report, Aaronson also expressed his personal, human and moral reaction to the murders, and looked at it from a Jewish point of view as well.

It is difficult to overestimate how important the position of the Jews, and especially the attitude of the State of Israel to the Armenian Genocide, are for the Armenians. Yet the State of Israel has consistently refrained from acknowledging the genocide of the Armenian people. How is it possible that the Israeli state, established by a nation victimized by genocide, partakes in the denial of another people's genocide, namely the Armenian? Two main reasons are generally given: (a) constant pressure by the different Turkish governments, (b) strong pressure from groups within Israeli society, who are afraid that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide would damage the concept of the uniqueness of the Shoah. The policy of denial is expressed formally by the fact that, except for two specific cases, government representatives do not participate in the memorial assemblies held every year on April 24 by the Armenians to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Political leaders and government representatives in many other countries, even those which do not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, do send messages of acknowledgement and sympathy and even participate in the ceremonies. This Israeli policy of avoiding participation in memorials or consciously refraining from acknowledging the Genocide is not "innocent denial", yet it also might not be defined, at least not at the beginning, as "active denial" or "direct denial". Nonetheless, the behavior of the State of Israel since the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s did become an active denial in one way on another, and in 2001-2002 even a direct denial. In this context I would like to mention two statements:

The headlines of the Turkish Daily News, the influential English daily, on April 10, 2001, were clear: "Peres: Armenian Allegations are Meaningless."

The interview with Peres was conducted on the eve of his official visit to Turkey. Peres claimed in it that it is for historians to deal with such historical issues. The claim may seem feasible, and is sometimes used by governments - including the American and the Israeli - who wish to avoid the dilemma. Nevertheless, it is very well known that this denial tactic is practiced manipulatively by the Turks and their supporters.

According to the Turkish newspaper, Peres said that Israel should not take an historical or philosophical position on the Armenian issue, but added: "If we have to determine a position, it should be done with great care so as not to distort the historical realities." Furthermore, Peres was quoted as saying:

    We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through, but not a genocide.

Israel, as we have shown, had been systematically avoiding the Armenian issue. Now the Foreign Minister joined the deniers on behalf of the Israeli government. This was not The Holocaust (with capital H), this was not a holocaust or even a genocide, claimed the minister. What is it but an Israeli escalation from passive to active denial from moderate denial to hard-line denial? Imagine the Israeli and Jewish reaction to a similar claim by another country's Foreign Minister, regarding the Holocaust. What would be their reaction if the Holocaust had been called a "tragedy"?

Peres' views were repeated, unfortunately, by the Israeli Ambassador to Turkey in Georgia and Armenia, Rivaka Cohen, in February 2002 in Yerevan, and then by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The second statement was made by the Minister of Education, Yossi Sarid, on April 24, 2000 at the memorial gathering of the Armenian community in Jerusalem. The Minister of Education concluded his statement with a commitment to ensure that the Armenian Genocide be included in the Israeli secondary school history curriculum. He stated: "I would like to see a central chapter on genocide, on this huge and inhuman atrocity. The Armenian Genocide should occupy a prominent place in this program, which does justice to the national and personal memory of every one of you, to the memory of all the members of your nation. This is our obligation to you. This is our obligation to ourselves."

Unfortunately, nothing has been done since then, and quite surely nothing will be done in the near future.

These are the two sides, the two facets, of Israeli politics. It seems that the chances that Israel will, in the near future, recognize the Armenian Genocide are more remote than ever. But the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel is crucial in this regard, since the denial of the Armenian Genocide is very similar to the denial of the Holocaust of the Jews. Understanding and remembering the tragic past is an essential condition, even if not sufficient in and of itself, for preventing the repetition of such acts in the future.

I believe that an Israel that will recognize the Armenian Genocide will be a better state. We need to return to the moral values articulated so poignantly by Feinberg and Aaronson eighty-eight years ago. The Holocaust is firmly recognized by the world, and the State of Israel is sufficiently strong and self-assured to recognize the Armenian Genocide. We can do it now and we need to do it now. We need to do it as human beings, as Jews and as Israelis.

(*) The Importance of Consistency

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