In Israel and throughout the global Jewish community, much attention today justifiably focuses on countering the “new anti-Semitism,” the phenomenon in which Jew-hatred attempts to disguise itself as anti-Zionism and criticism of the Israeli government.
Yet the “old anti-Semitism” — the centuries-old blood libel accusing Jews of murdering Christians — is also alive and well, with a telltale sign coming from a recent series of tweets by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In tweets promoting the theme of “Christian Artsakh” from March 3-5, the ANCA transformed its territorial conflict with Azerbaijan into a religious battleground, describing the Armenian-occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh as “an ancient #Christian land, modern democratic republic, and home to 1st Century holy sites – under attack by #Azerbaijan’s oil-rich #Aliyev dictatorship.” The ANCA repeatedly used the same language to target supporters of Azerbaijan such as Jewish lawmaker Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), registered foreign agents like the BGR Group lobbying firm, and President Donald Trump.
Russian-Armenian journalist Grigor Atanesian — who is certainly not known for any pro-Azerbaijan bias — called out the ANCA’s “misleading and even dangerous” framing of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a religious conflict when in truth, it is “an ethnic one.”
Yet a closer examination of the ANCA’s tweets reveals that in addition to weaponizing Christianity for political purposes, the pro-Armenian lobby promoted age-old anti-Semitic tropes. One tweet featured a painting of the arrest of Jesus, invoking the myth that Jews killed Jesus. Another tweet included a photo of silver coins and stated, “For 30 pieces of silver (actually, quite a bit more) from #Azerbaijan’s oil-rich #Aliyev petro-monarchy, @BGR has betrayed the #Christian faithful of #Artsakh,” eerily conjuring the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of Jewish control over financial markets and governments.
A week earlier, after the American Jewish Committee (AJC) honored the memory of the Azerbaijani victims of the 1992 Armenian-perpetrated Khojaly massacre, a different Armenian Twitter user replied, “You sleep with Azeris and turks for money even though they carried out the genocide that inspired Hitler.” The remark echoes last year’s assault on Jewish organizations’ warm ties with Muslim-majority Azerbaijan by Armenian-American journalist David Boyajian. Writing in the Foreign Policy Journal, Boyajian blasted AJC CEO David Harris for accepting an award from Azerbaijan and “many Jewish writers worldwide” for “gratuitously slandering Armenian Americans and Armenia, all because Israel buys oil from and sells billions in weapons to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s adversary.” In claiming that the Azerbaijan-Israel relationship controls media coverage about Armenia, Boyajian’s anti-Semitic slander is unmistakable.
It should not be surprising to find this medieval-style anti-Semitism coming from Armenian organizations and commentators. Research shows that Armenian society displays chronic anti-Semitism. A Pew Research Center survey found that 32 percent of Armenians would not accept Jews as fellow citizens. Further, the Anti-Defamation League’s “Global 100” study reported that a majority of Armenians believe a variety of anti-Semitic stereotypes are “probably true.”
These anti-Semitic attitudes translate into anti-Semitic behaviors. In its capital of Yerevan, Armenia has glorified Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh through not just one, but three tributes: a statue, square, and subway station. In June 2019, on the eve of the Shavuot holiday, 60 Armenian Church students reportedly attempted a lynching of Jews in Jerusalem.
The ANCA’s recent rhetoric on Twitter represents the latest indicator of not only the anti-Semitism emanating from Armenia, one of the world’s oldest Christian nations, but also of the disturbing perpetuation of classical Christian anti-Semitism.
By contrast, Armenia’s Muslim-majority neighbor has a deep relationship with Israel, no history of anti-Semitism, and a prosperous Jewish community of its own for more than two millennia. Indeed, Azerbaijan is not fixated on a medieval mentality that injects religious issues into its territorial conflict, nor has Baku weaponized Islam like Yerevan weaponizes Christianity. In fact, a Gallup International/WI Network of Market Research poll ranks Azerbaijan as one of the world’s most secular countries, whose constitution affirms separation of church and state as well as religious freedom.
Azerbaijan’s paradigm for thriving interfaith ties is rooted in an understanding that Jews and Muslims — despite their differences — share the same history, same tragedies, and same fate. Now is the time for Armenia and its diaspora to follow suit. Today, Armenia’s fixation on its conflict with Azerbaijan gives new life to the blood libel that enabled anti-Semitism to emerge in the first place. Tomorrow, we can only hope that Armenia abandons this dangerous weaponization of religion, while helping jettison “old anti-Semitism” to the dustbin of history.