Josef Olmert

On moral foreign policy-Israel, Armenia, Turkey and Russia

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Muslim Ottoman Empire against the Armenian Orthodox Christian people. Well over a million people were massacred and with it a brutal end came to the long history of Armenians living in parts of today’s South East Turkey. Genocide? Well, there are those who deny that it took place, while not denying that so many were killed. Deniers of such human tragedies always include scholars (?) such as the famed anti-Israel Left Wing guru Noam Chomski who “explained” the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia, David Irving, the notorious British Holocaust denier, and in the case of the Armenians, the American Justin McCarthy. Then there is the Turkish Republic, first under the great Ataturk, more recently under the new Sultan, Erdoghan, who vehemently deny this Genocide and condition Turkey’s relations with other countries on accepting Turkish version of what happened.

For too long Israel was intimidated by Turkish ultimatums not to officially recognize the Genocide, for reasons ranging from the importance of the strategic relations with the Turkish military establishment to an unspoken fear that somehow recognizing other peoples’ genocides diminishes the centrality and uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust. No more, and not only because Erdoghan has proved himself to be a real enemy of Israel. The truth is, that even today, despite all the manifestations of Turkish hatred, Israel’s trade with them is VERY large, and the relationships still have a military-strategic dimension.

It is the right thing to do, as simple as that, and sometimes countries need to do what is right, and Israel is no exception. An official Israeli declaration that this was a Genocide, accompanied by a Knesset decision will ring many bells all over the world. Erdoghan will go crazy, so what?, he is in the business of going crazy almost every day on all kinds of issues. Israel should adopt its foreign policy in this case to its self-image, that of a country motivated by moral considerations, alongside strategic and political interests. Preaching morality to the world about the evil nature of Iran and some other of our enemies will seem then much more genuine and convincing.

It is not to suggest an adoption of “or lagoyim” — being a light unto the nations — policy at all cost, but not to totally disregard it either. That is to say, for example, that by accepting that other peoples experienced historic traumas is NOT to compare the Jewish Holocaust to the Palestinian so-called Nakba, as is viciously done by our enemies from within and outside. There are millions of Palestinians in the country which they call Palestine, but no Armenians in South East Turkey, and surely no millions of Jews where they used to be prior to the Second world war. In short, we should not feel that accepting the existence of other Genocides takes anything away from our particular national disaster, which stands out as the biggest crime ever to be perpetrated in recorded human history.

Moral elements in foreign policy should also prevail in the case of Russian 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Vladimir Putin decided a few days ago to sell a sophisticated Anti Aircraft system to Iran. Very bad news for Israel, but not so much as to justify Israel’s decision to lower the level of Its participation in Moscow’s celebration. In simple terms, this is a stupid decision, an emotional reaction which should be reversed and quickly.

In fact, I would have recommended sending Israel’s President to the ceremony, not just a minister, as was originally planned. Israel cannot disregard the role of the Red Army in defeating the Nazi beast, indeed the role of so many thousands Jewish soldiers of this army and Jewish partisans who were part of the Soviet war against the Nazis. G-D is my witness that anything connected with Communism, Stalin and the evil Soviet Empire is loathed by me, and the same attitude goes towards those in Israel who still adore this criminal system and wish for its return. However, as of the 22 June 1941 it was the Red Army which fought back against Nazism and did it so bravely, alongside the other allies. We Jews must appreciate and respect the sacrifices and sufferings of the Soviet people and their army. Putin and his policy is an issue, but I, for one, do not join the international chorus of condemnation about his Ukrainian policy. I have no sympathy for Ukrainian Fascists and those who glorify Stephan Bandera, the notorious Nazi collaborator. The debate about arms sales to Iran is important, but please let us not mix it up with the memory of the defeat of the Nazis.

It is precisely the need to human a human, moral face on our foreign policy, which leads me to call upon Israel to do the right thing about the Armenians and show our highest level of respect to those who will celebrate in Moscow the great victory over Nazism.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina