American Jewish Community Grappling with Armenian Genocide


Marc Perelman, writing for The Forward, has just released an important summary of the diplomatic back-and-forth currently in progress between major American Jewish organizations and the governments of Turkey, Israel, and the United States. What I’ve been hearing privately jives pretty well with what Perelman has published.
I’ve long been amazed by the position taken by the organized American Jewish community on the Armenian genocide. While a legal case for genocide would not be completely guaranteed of success (genocide is amazingly difficult to establish legally – for reference, the UN couldn’t do it in Darfur), it can and should be properly applied to the events of 1915-1917 given the spirit and popular meaning of the word.
I should say at the outset that I am not writing this post as an employee of Citizens for Global Solutions, which is generally more concerned with contemporary global problems than regional disputes; I am writing as a concerned Jew and citizen.
The most recent minor shake-up on this issue began when Andrew Tarsy, the Anti-Defamation League’s New England Regional Director, made reference to the Armenian genocide. His firing prompted a public outcry and caused Abe Foxman, its director, to rehire Tarsy and, after extensive consultations, to describe the atrocities as “tantamount to genocide.”
The ADL is the only one of the major establishment Jewish orgs. to make any reference to genocide of Armenians. And still, the ADL, as well as most major Jewish organizations, opposes Congressional action.
Yet, the positions of these organizations seem to be very much in flux. The American Jewish Committee, which had lobbied heavily against the Armenian genocide resolution in Congress, has not devoted extensive resources to opposition this year. AIPAC is the subject of mixed reports: Perelman says they have lobbied heavily against the resolution with help from Dick Gephardt, Bob Livingston, and Steve Solarz, while an AIPAC spokesman tells Ynet News, “…AIPAC is not – and I can say this unequivocally – not lobbying on this issue at all.” Like Perelman, I had heard that AIPAC was involved.
The Forward, which published Perelman’s piece, also published an editorial – against recognition. It reads:

There’s no doubt that collisions between fighting genocide and defending Israel cut the heart of Jewish identity in the post-Holocaust era. What, we may ask, is the point of fighting for a Jewish state if it will not act in a Jewish manner – that is, serve as a beacon to us and the world?

Amazingly, for The Forward editorial board, the answer is no. Instead, they argue, Jewish post-Holocaust ethics come second to political calculation and Jewish self-interest.
AJC Executive Director David Harris – an old personal and family friend of mine – tries to articulate a middle ground on the Jerusalem Post blog. Harris identifies this correctly as a choice for Jews between principle and pragmatism, and then almost brings himself to choose principle. It’s a valiant effort and an important step forward, but with due respect to my friend, still not good enough yet in my view. Either way, it’s worth a read.
Some Jews will find the most persuasive argument for accepting the Armenian genocide the possibility that if we do not, our calls of outrage with Holocaust denial will ring hollow – a very real possibility. There’s a better reason: it’s the right thing to do and it’s consistent with Jewish ethics.
All of the Jews I know who are engaged in this debate feel sincere compassion for the relatives of murdered and displaced Armenians. Their good intentions are not at issue. And, for that matter, no one should deny the implications of recognizing the Armenian genocide for Turkish and Israeli Jews.
However, the consequences of obscuring historical realities and disregarding fundamentally Jewish ethical principles – to the meaning of being Jewish – are far greater. It’s time to end this controversy, even if it is 90 years too late.
— Scott Paul


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