Government vs. Academia:Israel’s New Political Paradox

It all began last year when Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres visited Ankara and announced that "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."

Armenia’s were outraged and protests this assertive stance by the top diplomat of a nation whose sons and daughters themselves lived through the Holocaust.

Peres’ sentimen’s were reiterated last month by Israel’s ambassador to Armenia and Georgia Rivka Cohen–who during a press conference in Yerevan said the Genocide could not be compared with the Holocaust. This resulted in further public outrage and a diplomatic row between Armenia and Israel–especially after the former lodged a formal complaint to the Israeli foreign ministry.

In response to the Armenian note–Israel not only validated Cohen’s remarks–but went on to suggest that the veracity of the Genocide be confirmed through academic studies and historic research.

Amid this new phase in the denial of the Armenian Genocide–two noted Israeli scholars have sharply criticized their government for its posturing on the Genocide.

"As a Jew and Israeli–I am deeply ashamed of the position taken by our Ambassador and Ministry to deny that the genocide of the Armenian people in 1915 was in fact genocide," said Israel Charny–Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Genocide and Executive Director–Institute on the Holocaust & Genocide–Jerusalem in a letter sent to the Israeli foreign minister–Cohen and other top officials.

This letter was followed by a critically-worded article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was published authored by Dr. Yair Auron a scholar of genocide and author of the book The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide.

"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," Auron wrote in his article.

Both articles point to a paradox within Israeli society and further illustrate that a position expressed by a government cannot automatically become the stance of the people living in that country. It also illustrates that the Israeli government–despite overtures made in the past–is unwilling to understand that the international silence on the Genocide at the time–paved the way for Adolf Hitler to freely plan the extermination of the Jews in Europe.

In April 2000–Israel’s Education Minister Yosi Sarid discussed the Armenian Genocide during a speech and pledged that the subject would be taught in Israeli public schools. This was enough for the Ehud Barak administration to quickly counter Sarid and say that the minister had not expressed the position of the Israeli government.

Israel’s political motivations and its decades-long partnership and alliance with Turkey demonstrates that the leadership of the Jewish state is not keen to end man’s inhumanity to man and by asserting that the Genocide cannot be compared the Holocaust–the same leadership is signaling that it has cornered the market so to speak–on being a victim of a planned and perpetrated mass extermination campaign.

The Genocide or the Holocaust are not competitive events nor can one tragedy diminish the another. The Israeli government should feel the same shame that has been expressed by its own prominent scholars and immediately rectify its complicity in the Genocide denial campaign.

Both Charny and Auron–must be comended for their principled stance on this matter. Let us hope that their efforts will serve as examples for other academics and the Israeli public to demonstrate the same sentimen’s and advocate for justice. As for the Israeli government–"shame on them" is an understated condemnation of their posturing.


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