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When Pro-Israel Means Avoiding, Rather than Confronting, the Issue of Genocide

Friday, Oct. 19, 2007

As reported in a compelling article by the NYT's Neela Banerjee, Jewish communities in the U.S. face a growing dilemma in discussions of the House resolution to condemn the Armenian genocide:

"If you deny one genocide," said Dr. Jack Nusan Porter, a child of Holocaust survivors and a genocide studies scholar who attended the meeting, "you deny all genocides."

But others, including the powerful pro-Israel lobby group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have decided that the resolution is too damaging to Israel's alliance with Turkey. Abe Foxman, the ADL's national director defends the position in the same article:

"Israel's relationship with Turkey is the second most important, after its relationship with the United States," Mr. Foxman said. "All this in a world that isolates Israel, and all this can't simply be waved away."

All this, Banerjee reports, has led to a split with a growing number of Jewish community organizations cutting ties with the national ADL over the issue.

The ADL's decision to lobby against the Armenian genocide resolution is rational, even if it seems cold.

First, as mentioned, Israel does need Turkey as an ally in the Middle East. Turkey has an enormous population, and secular government, both of which make Israel, and its American lobbyists hesitant to risk any controversy.

Second, if the resolution passes, any resulting furor in Turkey would probably include at a minimum furious resentment toward Turkey's Jewish population, and more probably violent outbursts. Bloomberg's Louis Meixler reports from Istanbul:

Turkish Jews' concerns for their safety have been fanned by comments from Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that there's a perception in the country that Jews and Armenians "are now hand-in-hand trying to defame Turkey."

Nevertheless, for Jewish activists in the U.S. and elsewhere, the decision isn't easy. Is it more important to make sure genocide is recognized and denounced properly, or to protect Turkish Jews and Israel's alliance with Turkey?