Suppose the Nazis were not murdering Jews but were murdering ‘only’, say, Slavs, Gypsies, and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and suppose our beloved State of Israel were in existence: Would you agree to our selling arms to the Nazis?
Israel is reported to have sold billions of dollars worth of arms, including to governments that are killing or threatening to attack victim peoples. Last week there came reports that an Israeli drone in the hands of Azerbaijan – a huge arms customer of ours – was responsible for the deaths of six Armenians in the enclave Nagorno-Karabakh. And most recently Azeri military transport planes were reported to have landed in Israel (perhaps to pick up and deliver arms) during the war with Armenia
I am ashamed.
The Armenians were the victims of a major genocide 100 years ago that has even been called the “Armenian Shoah” by some Israeli scholars, including from Bar Ilan University. A great deal of their national and cultural ethos continues to focus passionately on the memory of that genocide (does that sound familiar to us Jews?). For many years now, we Israelis – whether led by Labor or Likud – have insulted and hurt the Armenian people by failing to recognize their genocide officially and formally. Would we ourselves tolerate another government – say the US or England – refusing to recognize the Holocaust because of their realpolitik interest with the perpetrator government?
One senior Armenian official has written several of us in Israel to express his deep pain as well as indignation, not only at our government’s cowardly and self-serving denials of the Armenian Genocide, but also at our thick military trade alliance with the Azeris, a Turkic people who adhere to Turkey’s bizarre and fascist tradition of rewriting history and denying the Armenian Genocide.
I am reminded of the prophet Natan crying out to King David for an earlier though more delectable murderous act of self-interest, or Elijah remonstrating Ahab about his murderous larceny: It’s bad enough that you killed him, are you also taking a profit from the sordid affair? (In the Hebrew: “Haratazachta v’gam yarashta?”)
In general, how willing are we Israelis to strengthen our economy by lucrative arms sales? Of course, “everyone” in the world is doing it, but do we have to also? Have we given up the vision of Israel as a moral leader of peoples on this planet? Is this idea tiresome, naïve, and childlike in a madly destructive and self-destroying world?
An alternative principle could be that we build arms first and foremost for the defense of Israel, and that we supply arms only to underdog peoples who are facing mass destruction and to allies like the US that are essentially committed to shared democratic values and to peace. Of course we will still make some mistakes, but at least our conscience will be more clear that we have not delivered arms to the ‘Nazis.’
To my Armenian colleagues and friends, I can only say that as a Jew and as an Israeli, I am mortified – and angry.
Israel W. Charny is executive director and co-founder of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem and editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide.