Posted on: May 15, 2007 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 15

In one of the most bizarre and appalling developments here in the US, a number of Jewish groups are pressing Congress not to recognize the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. They are opposing bills in both the House and Senate that would formally recognize it.

It’s hard to imagine the cynicism and hypocrisy that this act embodies. Of all people, we Jews have, rightly, pushed the world to acknowledge horrific acts of genocide, to mark them, try to prevent them and to raise our voices loudly in the cry of “Never Again.”

The four Jewish groups that presented the case to Congress, on behalf of the Turkish Jewish community, were the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), B’Nai Brith, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

That JINSA would engage in this is not surprising. A Jewish group in name only, JINSA is a right-wing propaganda machine that has pushed the worst excesses of both the Bush Administration and the Israeli right for years, with no regard for human rights or the welfare of innocents, in Israel or elsewhere. Of the other three groups, it is fair to expect much better than this.

The groups are concerned about Turkey’s standing in world opinion, but frankly the concern is overblown. Outside of Turkey, few believe that the massacre of Armenians during the reign of the Young Turks as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling under the weight of World War I was not a genocide. Official declarations of genocide have been made by most European countries, 40 out of the 50 United States of America, Russia and many other countries. Those that have not made formal recognition have often made it clear that politics, rather than a true disagreement with the characterization, has been the reason. Germany, for instance, passed a resolution that “honors and commemorates the victims of violence, murder and expulsion among the Armenian people before and during the First World War”. The German resolution mentions that “many independent historians, parliaments and international organizations describe the expulsion and annihilation of the Armenians as genocide.”

Iran does not formally recognize the Armenian genocide, but in 2004, their president, Mohammed Khatami, visited a memorial to the genocide. And so on.

Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide and this has occasionally caused controversy in Israeli society. Again, few Israelis would deny the genocide, but Turkey is one of Israel’s few allies, and a Muslim country at that, so they are not willing to rock the boat.

These are the considerations, of course, that motivate American Jewish groups to oppose Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide. And they are, plain and simple, the wrong considerations.

It’s objectionable enough that Israel, the Jewish State, downplays and withholds recognition of the Armenian genocide. But in Israel’s case, they are an embattled country with few true allies, and Turkey is not only one of them, it is the only full ally of Israel in the region and in the Muslim world. That doesn’t excuse Israel’s stance, but the circumstances at least provide a rationale, and one that is understandable if not acceptable.

But the US has no such concern. It’s not like Turkey can afford to rend its relationship with the United States over a Congressional declaration that would change little, as most of the US already recognizes the genocide. And it is even less a concern for American Jews, who should be the first to hold this principle above all others.

The hypocrisy becomes even clearer when we examine a separate statement by the ADL and JINSA where they state that legislators should not take a position on such matters.

One has to ask, would the ADL stake out the same position on the Shoah? Does it matter to them that they just provided an argument to Holocaust-deniers? Or did they not even bother to think it through that far?

In any case, it is worth noting that many Jewish groups do not share this stance and that many of the proposed bill to recognize the Armenian genocide are Jewish. The Progressive Jewish Alliance, in fact, published an op-ed in the LA Times decrying the actions of these four groups.

As Jews, we rightly say “Never Again.” But what does the phrase mean if it doesn’t apply to everyone?

15 People reacted on this

  1. I agree that the Armenians were victoms of genocide. They were not killed for being Christians or for being an “outside” ethnic group per-se but as potential troublemakers and political advesaries to the “Young Turks”, some of whom were sultans who’s families had been Jewish and were converted to a secular variety of Islam some generations earlier. So it is a complex question as to why the Armenians were targeted but they were targeted as a group and therefore victoms of genocide. Moreover, 4/5ths of their population were wiped out.
    However, I take issue with the way that Mitchell characterizes his statements, which wrongly make the inference that the standard (status-quo) Jewish position is opposed to these Congressional bills. As far as I can tell, Israel is walking on eggshells and the specific Jewish groups he mentioned are Turkish ones and therefore are Turkish groups more so then Jewish groups.

  2. BTW:
    “Nicolas Sarkozy, new President of France: Past and Future
    By Raanan Eliaz
    Updated: 06/May/2007 19:05
    In an interview Nicolas Sarkozy gave in 2004, he expressed an extraordinary understanding of the plight of the Jewish people for a home: “Should I remind you the visceral attachment of every Jew to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is nothing outrageous about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear passed down through generations, and he knows that if one day he will not feel safe in his country, there will always be a place that would welcome him. And this is Israel.” (From the book “La République, les religions, l’espérance”, interviews with Thibaud Collin and Philippe Verdin.)

    Sarkozy’s sympathy and understanding is most probably a product of his upbringing; it is well known that Sarkozy’s mother was born to the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of Salonika, Greece. Additionally, many may be surprised to learn that his yet-to-be-revealed family history involves a true and fascinating story of leadership, heroism and survival. It remains to be seen whether his personal history will affect his foreign policy and France’s role in the Middle East conflict.

    In the 15th century, the Mallah family (in Hebrew: messenger or angel) escaped the Spanish Inquisition to Provence, France and moved about one hundred years later to Salonika. In Greece, several family members became prominent Zionist leaders, active in the local and national political, economic, social and cultural life. To this day many Mallahs are still active Zionists around the world.

    Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Benkio, was born in 1890. Beniko’s uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a devoted Zionist who, in 1898 published and edited “El Avenir”, the leading paper of the Zionist national movement in Greece at the time. His cousin, Asher, was a Senator in the Greek Senate and in 1912 he helped guarantee the establishment of the Technion – the elite technological university in Haifa, Israel. In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist Federation of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for several years. In the 1930’s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to which he himself immigrated in 1934. Another of Beniko’s cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish causes who served in the Greek Parliament, and in 1920 he was offered, but declined, the position of Greece’s Minister of Finance. After the establishment of the State of Israel he became the country’s first diplomatic envoy to Greece.

    In 1917 a great fire destroyed parts of Salonika and damaged the family estate. Many Jewish-owned properties, including the Mallah’s, were expropriated by the Greek government. Jewish population emigrated from Greece and much of the Mallah family left Salonika to France, America and Israel. Sarkozy’s grandfather, Beniko, immigrated to France with his mother. When in France Beniko converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Benedict in order to marry a French Christian girl named Adèle Bouvier.

    Adèle and Benedict had two daughters, Susanne and Andrée. Although Benedict integrated fully into French society, he remained close to his Jewish family, origin and culture. Knowing he was still considered Jewish by blood, during World War II he and his family hid in Marcillac la Croisille in the Corrèze region, western France.

    During the Holocaust, many of the Mallahs who stayed in Salonika or moved to France were deported to concentration and extermination camps. In total, fifty-seven family members were murdered by the Nazis. Testimonies reveal that several revolted against the Nazis and one, Buena Mallah, was the subject of Nazis medical experiments in the Birkenau concentration camp.

    In 1950 Benedict’s daughter, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Nagy Bosca y Sarkozy, a descendent of a Hungarian aristocratic family. The couple had three sons – Guillaume, Nicolas and François. The marriage failed and they divorced in 1960, so Andrée raised her three boys close to their grandfather, Benedict. Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like a father to him. In his biography Sarkozy tells he admired his grandfather, and through hours spent of listening to his stories of the Nazi occupation, the “Maquis” (French resistance), De Gaulle and the D-day, Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his political convictions.

    Sarkozy’s family lived in Paris until Benedict’s death in 1972, at which point they moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine to be closer to the boys’ father, Pal (who changed his name to Paul) Sarkozy. Various memoirs accounted Paul as a father who did not spend much time with the kids or help the family monetarily. Nicolas had to sell flowers and ice cream in order to pay for his studies. However, his fascination with politics led him to become the city’s youngest mayor and to rise to the top of French and world politics. The rest is history.

    It may be a far leap to consider that Sarkozy’s Jewish ancestry may have any bearing on his policies vis-à-vis Israel. However, many expect Sarkozy’s presidency to bring a dramatic change not only in France’s domestic affairs, but also in the country’s foreign policy in the Middle-East. One cannot overestimate the magnitude of the election of the first French President born after World War II, whose politics seem to represent a new dynamic after decades of old-guard Chirac and Mitterrand. There is even a reason to believe that Sarkozy, often mocked as “the American friend” and blamed for ‘ultra-liberal’ worldviews, will lean towards a more Atlanticist policy. Nevertheless, there are several reasons that any expectations for a drastic change in the country’s Middle East policy, or foreign policy in general, should be downplayed.

    First, one must bear in mind that France’s new president will spend the lion’s share of his time dealing with domestic issues such as the country’s stagnated economy, its social cohesiveness and the rising integration-related crime rate. When he finds time to deal with foreign affairs, Sarkozy will have to devote most of his energy to protecting France’s standing in an ever-involved European Union. In his dealings with the US, Sarkozy will most likely prefer to engage on less explosive agenda-items than the Middle-East.

    Second, France’s foreign policy stems from the nation’s interests, rooted in reality and influenced by a range of historic, political, strategic and economic considerations. Since Sarkozy’s landing at the Elysée on May 16 will not change those, France’s foreign policy ship will not tilt so quickly under a new captain.

    Third reason why expectations for a drastic change in France’s position in the Middle-East may be naïve is the significant weight the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs exerts over the country’s policies and agenda. There, non-elected bureaucrats tend to retain an image of Israel as a destabilizing element in the Middle-East rather then the first line of defense of democracy. Few civil servants in Quai d’Orsay would consider risking France’s interests or increasing chances for “a clash of civilizations” in order to help troubled Israel or Palestine to reach peace.

    It is a fair to predict that France will stay consistent with its support in establishing a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing side by side with a peaceful Israel. How to get there, if at all, will not be set by Sarkozy’s flagship but rather he will follow the leadership of the US and the EU. Not much new policy is expected regarding Iran, on which Sarkozy has already voiced willingness to allow development of civilian nuclear capabilities, alongside tighter sanctions on any developments with military potency.

    One significant policy modification that could actually come through under Sarkozy is on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. The new French president is not as friendly to Lebanon as was his predecessor, furthermore, as the Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy even advocated closer ties between France and Syria. Especially if the later plays the cards of talking-peace correctly, Sarkozy may increase pressure on Israel to evacuate the Golan Heights in return for a peace deal with Assad.

    Despite the above, although Sarkozy’s family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the presidents’ personal Israeli friends may. As a Minister of Interior, Sarkozy shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago and it is easy to observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics, but also in their public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel’s chief position it will be interesting to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and France, and a more constructive European role in the region.
    So, I guess we will now be hearing accusations of the Worldwide Jewish (“Zionist”) conspiracy has now infiltrated France??
    Actually, there is a possibility that I am a distant blood relative to Sarkozy because my family also came from Salonika, Greece.

  3. great to read that quote from sarkozy. sometimes it seems that some europeans understand how jewish people feel about israel, because they still remember what it’s like for jews to NOT feel safe in their own countries.

    and i too would agree with the criticism of the jewish groups opposing the legislation. wasn’t it the ottoman turks that did this, not the modern state of turkey. if so, turkey has nothing to fear from coming to grips with its past.

  4. “the specific Jewish groups he mentioned are Turkish ones and therefore are Turkish groups more so then Jewish groups.”

    I will sit this one out as I personally think this should be a discussion strictly within the Jewish community itself. But I was puzzled by this statement, Isidor. By “Turkish” you mean Sephardic? Are you saying that AJC, BB, and ADL are Sephardic groups? Please enlighten.

    I would also like to mention that the Ottomans invited the Jews to come to Turkey after they were cast out of Spain in 1492, a fact which I believe flies in the face of charges that anti-Semitism is in the DNA of Islam. Jews have often fled to Muslim countries for refuge when persecuted by Christians. OK that’s all I wanted to say.

  5. John:
    “Sit this one out” ??
    Thats the funiest thing I’ve heard since Jim McGreevy joined the Seminary.
    Since when do you sit anything out?
    Not today either, as you have already left your # 14 footprint. Which is fine. Today (for a change) you may have actually snagged me on a misstatement. I don’t know exactly which groups are fussing or why. I thought from Mitchell’s posting that he had stated that (at least some) of these Jewish groups were based in Turkey. (Me running around trying to make a meeger living.)
    Regarding Jews in Turkey:
    Yes, you are correct that there were times in history when the Jews were far better off under Islamic rule then Holy-Roman rule.
    However, Black women in Paris generally get more dates then White women. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt (and visa-versa). Besides, during the Crusades, Jews in the Mid East were not spared the Roman Sword. However, Turks have never been overly fond of Arabs either. So its a complex situation and defies your simplistic characterization and therefore your comclusion (inference) is also wrong.

  6. i like how JVP calls JINSA “A Jewish group in name only”.

    talk about projection! look in the mirror, people!

  7. Hello:
    What was the upshot on this topic? Did the legislation pass the House and the Senate? Where is a good writeup on it? Are these American Jewish groups still feuding over whether the Armenian genocide should be accepted or not? What are the official positions of such Holocaust/genocide orgs as the USHMM or Simon Wiesenthal Center and major American/EuropeanJewish/Israeli politicos and religious?
    I am in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and keep running into (unprogressive) Jewish scholars who cannot accept that there are genocides besides the Holocaust. Note that Facing History and Ourselves Organization (one of main secondary level educational orgs teaching these subjects in the US and Europe) now teaches the Armenian genocide in parallel and contrast to the Jewish/European Holocaust.

  8. It is ironic that people should seek to distinguish “the Holocaust” from the Armenian genocide. The term “Holocaust”, from a Greek eord for sacrifice by fire, was first used by Winston Churchill to describe the slaughter of Armenians whose bodies were burned in pits. (info. from talk by Dr.Mark Levene to Jewish Socialists’ Group dayschool).
    Then there was Hitler’s reported remark to his generals, worried they might be held to account for atrocities in Poland: “Who today remembers the Armenians”. Incidentally, I read somewhere that German intelligence officers were involved in, or at least witnessed, the Armenian massacre, so if true it was a warning precedent.
    The ASL and AJC may have been concerned for Turkish Jews (I don’t know about JINSA). But such organisations concern for Diaspora Jewish communities seems to vary. We remember the campaigns for Soviet Jewry, and the silence over the junta in Argentina. Any relation to US or Israeli foreign policy is purely coincidental.
    The views of Jewish communities in other countries are often ignored or dismissed when big US-based organisations affect concern for our interests. Why should we accept their use as a pretext when it suits other interests?
    If Turkish Jews have been threatened in order to blackmail Jewish organisations that is a condemnation of the Turkish regime, as is its insistence on denying the Armenian genocide to this day. Does it fear ackowledging past crimes would weaken it in maintaining a hard line today against the Kurds?
    But Israel has a military alliance with Turkey, and of course so does the United States, and I’d wager this explains Jinsa’s attitude and at least indirectly that taken by ADL and the AJC.

  9. Let’s be honest. For my 50 short years, it has been ” Never again, to us “!

  10. Let’s really be honest. For my 71 years, it should be “Never again, to us or anybody”.

  11. Isidor Farash @1:

    “However, I take issue with the way that Mitchell characterizes his statements, which wrongly make the inference that the standard (status-quo) Jewish position is opposed to these Congressional bills. As far as I can tell, Israel is walking on eggshells and the specific Jewish groups he mentioned are Turkish ones and therefore are Turkish groups more so then Jewish groups.”

    Huh? The Anti-Defamation League is a Turkish group? B’nai Brith? JINSA? The American Jewish Committee?

    What on Earth have you been smoking?

    These are all organized, established Jewish groups. All point to the Shoah and use it for all kinds of purposes, some noble, some less so (and transparently political to boot). Their refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide is hypocrisy at its worst, and (as has been pointed out) gives ammo to the Shoah-deniers among us.

    Nope, their actions and motivations are transparent. It’s. All. About. Israel. Nothing else matters. Not even Jewish values. Or human ones (which, I hope, would be mostly the same).

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