August 27, 2007
League Recognizes Armenian Genocide, But It’s Not Enough
The Anti-Defamation League did its part to right a historical wrong this
week. But was it too little, too late?
The ADL, probably the most influential group representing the Jewish
community in the United States, announced in mid-August that its
position is now to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. This comes as a
reversal of the organization’s previous position, which was to take no
position, and to argue that the question is best left to historians, not
to Congress. It's yet another case of events from many decades ago
having a profound effect on the debates of today.
The occasion for the
controversy is a resolution, currently pending in Congress, that would
make it the official policy of the U.S. to recognize the Armenian
genocide – a massacre of over a million members of the Armenian ethnic
minority by the Ottoman Turks that took place during World War I,
beginning in 1915. Armenian-Americans have pushed for years for the U.S.
to recognize the genocide, while the Turkish government, as well as
Turkish-American groups, have opposed it, taking the position that what
took place was not genocide, but rather simply casualties of war.
The position of ADL
head Abraham Foxman was opposed by many voices from within the Jewish
community, including the ADL’s Boston-area director, who spoke out and
was fired for his trouble. And prior to the position switch, Foxman’s
resignation has been called for by the online magazine Jewcy.com,
specifically its wonderfully-written and even more wonderfully-named
blog, The Daily Schvitz.
What’s the rationale
for opposing the resolution, which the ADL continues to do? The idea is
that Turkey is a rare majority-Muslim ally of both the U.S. and Israel,
and antagonizing them is counterproductive – especially in regard to
events that took place over 90 years ago and can never be undone.
Much like the U.S.
reluctance to move towards an independent Kurdistan, despite it being
probably the best move for both the Kurds and us, the reluctance to
recognize the 1915 genocide is yet another case of a potential ally
being reluctant to put pressure on Turkey. As one of the few Muslim
democracies, Turkey – despite their refusal to cooperate in regard to
the Kurds or the Armenians – is a valuable ally for the West in the war
Foxman, who has been with the ADL since 1965 and its head since 1987,
has often found himself at the center of controversy in recent years.
Foxman, depending on your point of view, is either a gutless liberal, a
cold-hearted conservative or neither. He's been called "Likud's point
man in Washington" by the left-leaning alternative weekly New York
Press, but found himself on the opposite side from the cultural
right during the "Passion of the Christ" controversy, when Foxman and
the ADL argued – correctly, we now know – that both the film and its
creator were anti-Semites.
The answer is simply that Foxman is the leader of an interest group, and
he acts in most cases in what he feels represents the interests of the
group itself and its constituents. These involve coming down on the left
in some situations, and on the right in others. But considering that
these controversies have become more and more common, and more and more
indefensible from Foxman’s side – first Foxman’s lobbying for the Marc
Rich pardon, and now this – perhaps it’s time for some new blood at the
top of the ADL.
What’s not right is to prescribe ulterior motives to the ADL and other
Jewish groups who have simply made the wrong call. In a great piece in
the New Republic earlier this month about the various lobbying
maneuvering behind the Armenian genocide, Michael Crowley quoted an
observer as saying that, "Jewish groups don't want to give up their
ownership of the term genocide.”
But that’s not quite
true either. After all, the American-Jewish community has been among the
most vocal in the world in regard to ending the killing in Darfur. And
the Armenian genocide has a unique connection to the Holocaust itself:
Adolf Hitler is said by historians to have pointed to the ambivalence of
most of the world to the killing of the Armenians, and decided that he
could then mount a genocide of his own.
The genocide of the Armenians did indeed take place, historians find
nearly unanimously, and Turkey needs to come to grips with its past and
apologize for it. And it’s time America, and interest groups within it,
push for the resolution to acknowledge this, and put pressure on Turkey
to do so as well.
© 2007 North Star Writers
Group. May not be republished without permission.
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