Explaining the Armenian genocide controversy

Explaining the Armenian genocide controversy



Abraham FoxmanA Point of View: By Abraham H. Foxman


A favorite subject for discussion at conferences between Israelis and American Jews is how little we truly understand each other. While there is a tendency at times to exaggerate the gap between us, different perspectives do exist.


One such example has surfaced in the starkly different reactions of Israelis and American Jews to the recent controversy over events in the Ottoman Empire during WWI.  ADL [Anti-Defamation League] became ensnared in the controversy in the New England area about how to describe those events. While we always acknowledged what befell the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks at that time were massacres and atrocities, we did not use the term genocide.  We also do not support a resolution on the Armenian Genocide currently pending in the US Congress


Armenian Americans in the Boston suburb of Watertown, angered by ADL?s position — though ADL is just one of many Jewish organizations with the same position — targeted us.  They threatened to cancel our anti-bias program, ?No Place For Hate,? if we didn?t change our position and they engaged in a public campaign accusing us of denial for not using the term genocide.
In light of the heated controversy and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL decided to revisit the issue and came to share the view of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel that the consequences of those actions against the Armenians were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.


Some have asked why it took us so long to say so. The answer is because over the years we had faced a dilemma. For us, there were competing moral principles at work. The security and wellbeing of Jews everywhere in the world is a priority for ADL. In this case it was listening to the views of the leaders of the Turkish Jewish community, a community that lives well in Turkey but is still a small community of 20,000 in a country of 65 million Muslims. A guiding principle for ADL is that when Jewish communities around the world appeal to us on matters that may have an impact on their lives, we don?t act as if we know better. We pay attention.


There was also our concern for the safety and wellbeing of Israel, whose relationship with Turkey is very critical. After the United States, Turkey is Israel?s most important ally.
On the other hand, we did not want to ignore the history of the Armenian tragedy. So, through the years we urged Turkish leaders to come to grips with the past in a way they had not. And, we referred to the events as massacres and atrocities. We just did not use the term genocide.
Our maintaining the equilibrium between two moral imperatives–concern for the wellbeing of Jewish communities and recognizing human injustice?was under attack. It wasn't that only Armenians protested against ADL's non-use of the word genocide, but that they were joined by some vociferous voices in the Jewish community
To be honest, I understood the passion behind these appeals but I was frustrated and disheartened that these critics were not taking seriously the dilemma we faced.
While some in the Armenian American community welcomed our change of position, they remain publicly critical of our not endorsing the Congressional Resolution, which we continue to believe is counterproductive.


This has been coupled with criticism from Turkish government officials (Prime Minister Erdogan called President Shimon Peres urging him to “do something” about ADL's decision). Turkish Jews, and many Israeli officials all wondering how ADL, which has been a leader in promoting Turkish-Israeli relations and working with the Jewish community in Turkey could do such a thing.
Therefore, it became apparent to us that at a time when the Jewish people faces its greatest challenges in decades–the Iranian nuclear threat, conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish power and disloyalty, boycott efforts against Israel–we were going to be interminably bogged down in an internal struggle over the Armenian issue, which would have had the effect of paralyzing us and making it impossible to focus on these other monumental challenges.


So we issued our statement. We used the term genocide for a tragedy that we always acknowledged. We have called on the Turks and Armenians to create a mechanism so they themselves can reconcile their differences over the past.
We are not apologetic about the way we have handled this sensitive subject. At each point of our decision-making we tried to be true to our principles and priorities.
We will continue to work on behalf of the Jewish people and in the process to create a more tolerant world for all.


Source: “The Jerusalem Post” Blog Central, 09 September 2007

Azad-Hye note: See comments posted by readers by clicking on the above link. We quote here one of the comments (referring to the following sentence in the text: “At each point of our decision-making we tried to be true to our principles and priorities”).


“Mr. Foxman you don't represent the Jewish Community, you only represent the organization to which you belong. Don't misrepresent the Jewish Community, it was you and your organization facing moral judgement, as well as principled challenges. Seems the Anti-Defamation League's priorities are above it's principles. Rich, Fresno”.

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