One of the sacred lessons of the Holocaust in contemporary Jewish life has always been that it is such a transcendent historical event that it must not be exploited for political gain by anyone, Jew or gentile. This, in essence is one of the sine qua nons of the ADL, which makes a point of taking to task demagogues of the world who engage in such cheap behavior. My problem with that organization is that such denunciations seem reserved far more often for the political left than the political right. But that’s a subject for another time.
The Israeli Knesset is poised to exploit a different Holocaust in precisely the same way it would take to task any other country engaging in such cheap theatrics. For years, as long as it enjoyed a healthy relationship with Turkey, Israel has refused to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. This is nothing short of Holocaust denial (though of a slightly different vintage, since it isn’t JEWISH Holocaust denial). The ADL too, in accord with Israel’s approach, refused to recognize this historic tragedy. This, despite the fact that the national group features Holocaust education as one of its core missions.
Now that relations with Turkey have soured, Israel can now afford to develop historical memory and a moral conscience. The Knesset is now considering appointing a day in the nation’s calendar that will recognize this other Middle Eastern Holocaust.
Of course there was an Armenian genocide and of course it should be recognized by all nations, including and especially Turkey. But the Knesset’s actions beg the question: why now? The answer is of course because now it’s politically expedient to acknowledge Armenian suffering as long as it discomfits our new enemy of the moment: Turkey.
This is yet another shameful abuse of the Holocaust (this one Armenian) for a nation’s selfish political interests. It is simply unacceptable for Israel or anyone to exploit such unimaginable suffering for partisan advantage. There must be a line drawn somewhere, a sacred prohibition against such cheap and tawdry grandstanding. And as a nation claiming to represent the history and suffering of the entire Jewish people, it is an unpardonable sin for Israel to turn the Armenian genocide into a cudgel to use in it’s mini-war against Turkey.
For if Israel does this, it will simply have no leg to stand on when it wishes to complain about others exploiting OUR Holocaust for their own ends.
The Knesset’s protestations that the new deliberations aren’t politically motivated and have nothing to do with petty vengeance against Turkey for siding with the Palestinians during and after Operation Cast Lead, ring hollow. Just like the defense ministry’s cancellation of a contract with Turkey to deploy an advanced Israeli-made radar system, for fear it might end up in Iran’s hands, rang hollow when it claimed the announcement had nothing to do with the current political spat between the two countries. Of course it has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with the security concerns advanced by Israel.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.