Jack Mendel
The Online Editor at the Jewish News

It’s time for Israel to recognise the Armenian genocide 100 years on

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor.

Jews see the Shoah as not just being a genocide, but a process by which an ideology of hatred and racism was implemented in Europe.

Armenia’s genocide’s started started on 24 April 1915, one hundred year ago today – but Israel does not recognise it.

That was, in the words of Pope Francis, the first genocide of the 21st century.

Hitler destroyed not only Six million Jews, but their generations to come, and their history. It was an attempt to wipe out their existence past and present.

That toxic idea, of being able to remove an entire people started with demonisation, and in small steps led to mass extermination. When it finished, those who would want to do it again, deny it ever happened.

We all, Jew and non-Jew, look back proclaim never again.

We hear testimonies and see evidence, and we take it in and try to prevent it from being repeated.

We want to make it undeniable. It happened.

This has resonance for Jews, because we are all Jews, and thus there is a certain identification with the ‘it could have been me’, narrative.

But we are also all humans, and the message of ‘never again’ in that regard, is a lot more difficult to get across if other examples are rejected as being so, for fear of diluting the message.

Outside of Israel groups such as the Anti-Defamination league issued a statement back in 2007 recognising it as a genocide, and a similar position has been taken by other groups, including over 50 Nobel Laureates headed by Shoah survivor Elie Weisel.

Recognising other’s suffering shouldn’t be seen as diluting the message of your own suffering. It should be part of a wider message of toleration, fighting discrimination and embracing difference.

The ottoman empire began its campaign to destroy its Armenians, when it rounded up over 200 Armenian intellectuals this day 100 years ago. Between 800,00 to 1.5 million Armenians died subsequently.

Whether Israel has not recognised it because it does not want to dilute the uniqueness of the Holocaust, or because it does not want to upset diplomatic relations with Turkey, who reject it as being a genocide (or indeed both elements) is a matter of debate.

What is not a matter of debate, is that is should be true to its message of ‘never again’, and recognise it once and for all.

If over a million people being demonised, deported, put in concentration camps and murdered is not a genocide? Then what is?

Israel has time and time again rejected the concept of the Armenian ‘massacre’ being a genocide.

It has considered recognition, but it seems to whimper out. Numerous MKs, including president Reuven Rivlin have supported formal recognition. It has been debated in the Knesset in 2011, with it unanimously passing a committee but then failing to become law a year later. Rivlin even spoke at the United Nations Holocaust Memorial in 2015, where he directly spoke about Armenia. He has beem ampl clear that he supports it, but other politicians such as former foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman has outright rejected the concept, citing how it may damage relations with Turkey.

It is wholly unacceptable for Israel to forgo recognition of another genocide, whilst preaching a message of remembrance of their legitimate grievance of the Shoah.

Now it’s time for Israel to do the same.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.
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