The Deep Roots of BDS

A variety of actors represent the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, on university campuses across the United States. For those unfamiliar, BDS is the flagship of anti­​-Semitic campus organizing. We easily recognize the louder voices at the table; Muslim Student Associations and the perpetually confusing Students for Justice in Palestine. Yet logic dictates that the numbers supporting BDS are barely covered by these 2 most obvious. Picking apart the pieces of the BDS movement isn’t a pretty task, but it does reveal truth, and in this world of propaganda and outright lies, we cannot afford to be squeamish or stingy with the facts.

Armenian student groups in the U.S. publicly side with BDS, a page in the alarming and practically unknown history of Armenian anti­​-Semitism. Armenian student groups may seem unlikely anti-­​Semites, because Armenia is a Christian nation, and both Armenians and Jews have more people living in diaspora than in their respective ancestral homelands. But a deeper survey of Armenian history and current attitudes reveal ample records of Jew hatred permeating Armenia for centuries. The purpose of calling out Armenian-­A​merican students is to shine light on the connection between a dominant and longstanding Armenian anti-Semitism and the current generation of Armenian anti­-Semitic actions, playing out today on BDS campuses.

During the last few decades, the American public has been extensively introduced to the facts concerning the genocide committed in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire against the profoundly victimized Armenians. A significant majority of the Armenian survivors and their descendants live in the U.S. today. Genocide created an intense diaspora for Armenians; exiled from Europe and psychically traumatized by its incalculable impact. Yet this is not the entire picture of Armenia’s history with genocide, and a deeper analysis of historic and current trends in Armenia reveals an unflattering paradox of identity and action. Violent prejudice against Jews and deeply anti­-S​emitic action in Armenia is a long­​term crisis, despite an absolute lack of public awareness to this fact, particularly in the United States.

Anti­-S​emites commonly accuse Israel and her supporters of “using” the Holocaust to negotiate a sovereign nation for Jews. It is practically unknown to most that Armenian anti­-S​emites played a weighty role in Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, specifically when 20,000 Armenian Nazi collaborators lent a hand by rounding up Jews and other ‘undesirables’ behind the German army as it swept across Russia, and organized death marches to concentration camps. The leaders of those collaborators were General Dro and General Njdeh, both hailed as national heroes in Armenia today. Moreover, in 1930s the Armenian-American media outlets, such as “Hairenik”, gave their full propaganda support to Hitler, calling Jews “poisonous elements”, justifying the Holocaust and naming it a necessary “surgical operation”.

It seems that by publicizing and earning American recognition of the Armenian Genocide, somehow Armenia has evaded criticism for longstanding anti­​-Semitic actions and crimes against humanity. It is no secret that public awareness is a key priority for the                     Armenian­-A​merican identity. Though given little credit for their efforts, Armenian student groups at University of California, Los Angeles, played a significant role in formulating the arguments and agenda against Israel, starting with their opposition to American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Anti­-Defamation League (ADL) affiliated programming and resources on campus. Their reason, despite much evidence to the contrary, is the blatantly false claim that the ADL and AIPAC both participate in Armenian Genocide denial and Islamophobia; neither proven or true in any regard. This propaganda is a shining example of the twisted misuse of the concept of victim, an abuse of the concept and practice of empathy, considering that both ADL and AIPAC publicly recognize the genocide and the tragedy of Islamophobia. This is part of the greater fiction of BDS; that it purports to exist for the sake of victims, yet its very design and agenda is to victimize Jews and supporters of Israel.

Knowing the historical background of Armenian anti­​-Semitism, perhaps it is less surprising to analyze a 2014 international survey on current trends in anti­​-Semitism, conducted by ADL. The survey showed that 1.3 million out of 2.2 million adults in Armenia share anti-­S​emitic beliefs. Armenia actually took first place as the most anti­-S​emitic country in Eastern Europe, and held for 3rd place across all of Europe. To demonstrate the fever, Armenia tallied in as 2% more anti­-S​emitic than Iran. Considering the level of anti­​-Semitism in Armenia, one can understand why Iran and Syria are two of Armenia’s most important allies today.

With this history lesson on Armenian Jew-­​hatred, it is not very astonishing that Armenian​-American student groups side unilaterally against the State of Israel, despite Armenian history with genocide and injustice, and the public awareness of Armenia as a victimized nation. Anti­​-Semitism as old and intense as it is in Armenia doesn’t just disappear with one generation, especially when the majority still living in their nation of origin harbors the same beliefs today. What is meaningful beyond this analysis is the sense it brings to the logic of BDS, a logic that is often challenging to follow. How can a victimized nation like Armenia support BDS and anti-­S​emitism today? The simple answer is that it always has.

About the Author
Raised in Jerusalem, New York City and Paris, Rabbi Barouk completed Smicha and Dayanas at Yeshivat Or Elchonon. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Rabbi Barouk frequently visits New York and has close family in Jerusalem and Paris.