Noted Scholar Protests Israeli Stance on Genocide

CAMBRIDGE–Mass.–Israeli scholar Yair Auron published an article in the influential newspaper Ha’aretz (March 3–2002) strongly criticizing the Israeli Government’s position of not recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Auron’s objections arose as a result of the recent diplomatic controversy between the Armenian and Israeli Foreign Ministries.

Dr. Auron’s article makes clear that what happened to the Armenia’s in 1915-1916 was genocide and criticizes the Israeli Government for moving from passively to actively engaging in genocide denial. He argues that such a declaration of denial made by a State whose people were victims of the Holocaust desecrates the memory of the Holocaust and its significance. An edited translation of the article in Ha’aretz follows.

Yair Auron is a Senior Lecturer in the field of contemporary Judaism and genocide at the Open University of Israel and the Kibbutzim College of Education. Dr. Auron is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation.

It Was Genocide

The Latest Israeli Denial of the Armenian Genocide Desecrates the Memory of the Holocaust

Translation of Hebrew article–Ha’aretz–March 3–2002

By Yair Auron

The first genocide in the 20th century was committed in 1915-1916. The Turks–rulers of the Ottoman Empire–massacred more than one million Armenia’s. While certain historical details and the exact number of the victims can legitimately be debated–there is no doubt that this was a case of genocide. Nevertheless–the Turks have never admitted to having committed genocide–and the Armenia’s–with the help of their few friends throughout the world–have struggled for 87 years to gain recognition of this fact.

Scholars of genocide note that denial is the final stage of genocide–though it does not always occur. Germany did admit to its crimes against the Jews; however–Slobodan Milosovic–who is now standing trial–and the Turks are examples of perpetrators who have not admitted their crimes.

For the Armenia’s–the importance of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Jews and–more important–by Israel–cannot be overstated. The fact that the State of Israel was founded by a people whose members were victims of the Holocaust–and the special meaning that derives from this–is known to Armenia’s–Turks–Israelis and to the entire world.

Israel has systematically avoided the Armenian issue. Government representatives–with few exceptions–do not participate in Armenian Memorial Day ceremonies held on the 24th of April. The dispute over Israel’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide has been going on for years.

On August 15–1995–then Foreign Minister Simon Peres–wrote me regarding my book on the Armenian Genocide: I am aware of the fact that Israel does not officially acknowledge the horrible massacre out of concern for the unique place of the Holocaust in the chronicles of human history.

In April 2000–it seemed as though a change was in the making. At a historical appearance at the Armenian Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem–then Minister of Education Yossi Sarid gave a speech in which he sympathized with the Armenian pain over the denial of the Genocide and promised that the subject would be taught in Israeli schools. But the Barak government swiftly rejected Sarid’s stand and stressed that he did not represent the government. And in April 2001–before an official visit to Turkey–Peres was quoted in a Turkish newspaper as saying: We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. What the Armenia’s went through is a tragedy–but not genocide.

The latest stage in this shameful affair occurred in the last two weeks. The Israeli Ambassador to Georgia and Armenia–Rivka Cohen–repeated Peres’ statement in Yerevan–the capital of Armenia. In Israel this was not reported. But Armenia’s in Armenia and all over the world were enraged. Government officials and politicians demanded that the Ambassador be declared persona non grata.

The Foreign Ministry of Armenia made an official protest to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and received the official answer of the State of Israel a few days ago: As Jews and as Israelis we are especially saddened by the deaths and the tragedy which took place in 1915 and 1916. We understand the emotional relevance for both sides and we are aware of the large number of victims and of the plight of the Armenia’s.

This issue requires extensive research and an academic dialogue based on testimonials and proof. Israel asserted that the Holocaust was a singular event in human history and was a premeditated crime against the Jewish people. Israel recognizes the tragedy of the Armenia’s and the plight of the Armenian people. However–the events cannot be compared to genocide. This does not in any way diminish the magnitude of the tragedy.

We cannot minimize the historical significance of this terrible statement. Not a holocaust–not genocide only "victims,"plight,"tragedy" without even mentioning who the perpetrators were. There is no mention of a killer–as if it were a natural disaster–but there is mention of the emotional relevance to both sides the Turks and the Armenia’s (imagine Jews and Germans being mentioned together in the case of the Holocaust!). And of course–mention is made of the uniqueness of the holocaust.

There is a lot of cynicism–arrogance–internal contradiction and irresponsibility in this dangerous official statement. In it–Israel moves from passive to active denial. This declaration was made by a State whose people were victims of the Holocaust only a little over 50 years ago. It puts in question the significance and the relevance of historical scholarship on genocide. In my view–it desecrates the memory of the Holocaust and its significance.

The fact that politicians–the media and academia disregard such a significant event only demonstrates the depth of our moral bankruptcy.

As an Israeli Jew–I can only ask the forgiveness of every member of the Armenian people and assure them that there are people in Israel who will not give up until their State changes its immoral and anti-historical attitude toward the genocide suffered by another people.

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