Remembering Jewish Allies As Israel Inches Closer To Official Recognition Of The Armenian Genocide

A view of the national flag of Israel in Eilat city center. On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Eilat, Israel.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On May 23, the Israeli Knesset approved a motion on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The motion’s architect, Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman from the Meretz party, argued, "This is our moral and historic obligation … some things are above politics."

The Knesset postponed an official debate on the Armenian Genocide recognition until unanimous support can be coalesced among MPs to avoid the much-deserved humiliation that would result from a failure of the Israeli government to collect a majority (let alone unanimous) agreement on acknowledging the Ottoman Empire extermination of 1.5 million Armenians.

On June 4, President Netanyahu once again postponed the debate over three bills that recognize the Armenian Genocide until after the Turkish elections so as to not aid Erdogan during his re-election campaign. Besides the Israeli MP’s pushing for the recognition of this heinous crime against humanity, Jews have historically been some of the staunchest Armenian allies.

One of the most important Jewish allies of the Armenian people in the 20th century was Raphael Lemkin. Aside from coining the term genocide, Lemkin lobbied the U.N. to successfully adopt "The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide." The convention defined "genocide" in legal terms. The concept was meant to allow legal protection of groups. Lemkin often said that the genocide of the Armenians was the catalyst for his crusade. It was his belief that had the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide been punished, then the Holocaust would not have taken place.

Lemkin was overwhelmed at the prospect of a race being destroyed with the resources available to a modern and relatively progressive government.

The Young Turk Revolution had deposed the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1908, ushering in an era of political and military reform. It was the political arm of the "reformists" — Committee of Union and Progress — that would ultimately implement the Armenian Genocide. The Young Turks enjoyed the membership of many future founders of the Republic of Turkey including Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In 1933, Austrian-Bohemian Jew, Franz Werfel, wrote his epic novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. The book showcased the horrors of the genocide while shedding light on a pocket of Armenian resistance who took refuge atop Musa Dagh in what is now Turkey. Werfel’s novel became a PR disaster for the Republic of Turkey and Mustafa Kemal personally. Due to pressure by the Turkish government, the book was banned in the Third Reich. It remained banned in Turkey until 1997.

Werfel was denounced by the Nazis as a propagandist. The Nazis also condemned America’s Armenian Jews for promoting the book in the U.S. because Werfel used the book as a tool to warn Germany about Hitler.

MGM secured the film rights to bring the book to the silver screen and cast Clark Gable as the lead. In response, Turkey’s ambassador threatened a boycott of MGM and a cessation of all Jewish commercial ties in Turkey. MGM eventually gave in.

The list of Jewish allies in the modern day is long, however, it is noteworthy to touch upon those fighting to ensure a second genocide of the Armenians does not take place. Yair Auron, an Israeli historian, scholar, and associate director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, wrote an article in Haaretz lambasting the Israeli government’s validation of the Turk-Azeri concoction known as the "Khojaly massacre." The alleged killing of 613 civilians (casualty count is unknown and only claimed by Azerbaijani authorities) amid the Nagoro-Karabakh war is exclusively recognized and commemorated by Turks and Azerbaijanis — who themselves deny the historically documented genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. In an attempt to offset Armenian Genocide recognition worldwide, Azerbaijan pays for articles bashing Armenia and attempts to pass non-binding resolutions in recognition of the alleged crime in order to compete.

Auron also criticized Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s 2015 speech to the U.N. General Assembly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day where, while not referring to the events as genocide, his remarks gave sustenance to the Azeri-Turk narrative falsely framing themselves as victims of Armenian aggression.

In a 2014 column, Yair Auron again scolded Israel’s tepid ties to Azerbaijan. The focus of his furor was Israeli weapon sales to the nation bent on a second genocide of the Armenian people. He wrote, "The sale of weapons to a government committing genocide is like the sale of weapons to Nazi Germany during World War II."

A 2017 incident vindicated Auron’s claims. While selling a suicide drone to Azerbaijan, the Aeronautics Defense Systems was reportedly asked to perform a live demonstration on an Armenian position. After the two Israelis refused to comply with the Azeris request, senior officials from the arms firm hijacked the deal and attempted to perform the live demonstration themselves. Lacking the necessary training to use the drone, they missed the target, wounding two officers. The Israeli Defense Ministry opened an investigation into the incident, while freezing the export of the drone to Azerbaijan.

"Who, after all, speaks today of the Armenians?" This infamous line was used by Hitler to rally Wehrmacht officers before his devastation of Poland. As it turns out, the Jewish people whom Hitler set out to destroy, would never forgot the Armenian people.

Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel would be a new chapter of closure for Jews all over the world, because if it was not for the unpunished genocide of the Armenians, the Holocaust might not have taken place.

If Turkey’s deranged president can muster the gall to accuse Israel of genocide (genocide!) for killing 60 terrorist invaders at their border, then surely the Israeli Knesset can acknowledge Turkey’s actual perpetration of the very crime they deny.

Follow Harry Khachatrian and Movses Ter-Oganesyan on Twitter.

Movses Ter-Oganesyan is a fellow at the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute. His area of expertise encompasses the wider Caucasus as well as American foreign policy.

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