Friday, October 19, 2007

Never Again.

One of the ugliest by-products of the Iraq was is the recent campaign by right-wing Jewish groups to suppress the memory of a genocide that occurred nearly 100 years ago. Under withering pressure from the Bush administration, congress is shelving plans to vote on a resolution acknowledging and condemning the genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman empire. The Bush administration's motives are purely a byproduct of realpolikal considerations: worried about antagonizing Turkey, a nation that is playing an important support role in Iraq, the Whitehouse would rather that this proposed Armenian Genocide resolution simply fall by the wayside, the way other such attempted resolutions have fallen by the wayside in the past. This is, perhaps, to be expected. After all, why should the Bush administration care about the deaths of a few million foreigners 90+ years ago, when they've shown so little concern for the well being of the American people today. However, when organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League lobby congress to drop such a resolution, this is evidence that something has gone terribly wrong with a group that, on the masthead of its website, proclaims its mission to be the securing of "...justice and fair treatment for all." Joey Kurtzman, writing in the journal Jewcy, focused on this sad state of affair when he called for the firing of Abraham Foxman, president of the ADL:

It is a scandal of unprecedented proportion when one of the most prominent figures in our community, a man who claims to speak on our behalf, publicly challenges the historicity of another community’s genocide. Foxman’s ADL no longer represents the interests of the Jewish community. In fact, it seems the only interests it represents are its own.
This is a scandal, because just as right-thinking people everywhere were outraged when Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called a conference to "debate" the historicity of the Jewish Holocaust, it is unthinkable that a genocide that occurred some 40 years before is still spoken of only in hushed tones for fear of offending or alienating the present-day descendants of its perpetrators. And yet some prominent right-wing Jewish organizations and pundits insist that we continue to do so, lest we upset the tender sensibilities of the Turkish government that is so generously allowing us to use their territory as a staging ground for our occupation of Iraq (though the reasoning is not always explicitly stated). Writing today in the Washington Post, for instance, Charles Krauthammer insists: pass a declarative resolution in the House of Representatives in the middle of a war in which we are inordinately dependent on Turkey would be the height of irresponsibility. The atrocities happened 90 years ago. Not a single living Turk under the age of 102 is in any way culpable.
The Jewish Holocaust ended in 1945. That was over 60 years ago. Should we simply forget it and "move on" in 30 years or so, when there is not a single living German under the age of 102 who is in any way culpable? Should we then raze the Holocaust museum at that time for fear of alienating German skinheads and extreme-right-wing political parties in that country?

But more shameful, perhaps, is this sentence from Krauthammer's column:
Even Mesrob Mutafyan, patriarch of the Armenian community in Turkey, has stated that his community is opposed to the resolution, correctly calling it the result of domestic American politics.
In appealing to the "authority" of one of the descendants of the of the Armenian genocide who is still living as an ethnic minority among the ethnic majority descendants of the perpetrators of the crime, in a state that is at best a tenuous democracy and at worst an authoritarian society living under constant threat of a military coup, Krauthammer shows he hasn't got even the slightest sense of shame about him. For all it matters, it might as well be Krauthammer holding the gun to the man's head and telling him what to say.

Just as hideous is the position of Max Boot, who, arguing against the resolution in Commentary magazine noted that ethnic Armenians:
...form a powerful lobbying group that donates a lot of money to politicians especially in states like New Jersey, Michigan, and California. (It is no coincidence that legislators from those states are leading the push for the Armenian genocide resolution.)
And then, as if to excuse himself from potential accusations of bigotry he immediately adds:
It’s common, and completely innocuous, for various ethnic groups to get involved in lobbying. It’s only a scandal, it seems, when the lobbyists in question are Jewish. In that case, their activities are denounced in odious anti-Semitic tracts, most of them published by groups like the John Birch Society, the Lyndon Larouchites, and the Ku Klux Klan, but some of which appear bearing the imprimatur of supposedly prestigious institutions like Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Way to have you cake and eat it too, eh? Simultaneously denouncing the "powerful" ethnic Armenian lobby while also denouncing as anti-Semites those who say the same things about right-wing Jewish lobbies. That's really quite an audacious rhetorical sleight of hand.

This refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide (even if "just not right now") is so offensive that Alan Dreshowitz (no shrinking violet when it comes to defending the interests of Israel) has felt compelled to object thus:

The Association of Genocide Scholars and the community of Holocaust scholars, as well as numerous others, have written that this horrific event was genocide. In 2000, 126 leading Holocaust scholars -- including Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel -- published a statement in The New York Times that sought both to "affirm the incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide and urge Western Democracies to officially recognize it."
To deny genocide victims their history and suffering is tantamount to making them victims again.

Justice and memory demand that we recognize the Ottoman Turkish genocide against the Armenians for what it was: the destruction of a large part of an ancient and vibrant community as well as the horrible model of what Hitler did to Jews and what the janjaweed is doing to the victims of Darfur.

What's perhaps most important to take from this is that organizations such as the ADL, commenters such as Krauthammer, and lobbying organizations such as AIPAC do not speak for the Jewish people. As much as they attempt to don that mantle, the right-wing politics that they espouse are, in fact, out of step even with the majority of American Jews in many issues. In fact, today, 77% of religious Jews in America say the war in Iraq was a mistake (contrary to Krauthammer, and every other group save African American protestants at 78%) and back in 2002, before the war, the Jewish community was evenly divided on the impending invasion at a time when the country as a whole favored the war at a 2-1 ratio. Of course, you'd never know that fact if you subscribed to a "conventional wisdom" that has been carefully cultivated, manufactured and promoted by a powerful alliance of right-wing Jewish groups, conservative evangelicals and the conservative movement more broadly that sees its interests furthered by the widespread acceptance of such a notion. Even the term "the Jewish lobby" plays into this game, as it allows right-wing pundits and organizations to denounce critics of organizations such as AIPAC as anti-Semites while simultaneously promoting the notion that they themselves are, indeed, representatives of Jewish interests and opinions. Yet in fact, they at best represent a minority view within the community.

I'll conclude with a statement that Krauthammer makes in his piece:

So why has Pelosi been so committed to bringing this resolution to the floor? (At least until a revolt within her party and the prospect of defeat caused her to waver.) Because she is deeply unserious about foreign policy.
It would appear that being deeply serious about foreign policy requires that one be deeply unserious about justice. At least in Krauthammer's mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post.