August 30, 2007
We should speak out for HR 106
Notably absent from the disagreement over whether Jewish organizations should support HR 106, the congressional resolution recognizing the genocide of almost 2 million Armenians in the early 20th century, is any debate about the truthfulness of the resolution. Virtually every historian acknowledges that this genocide is an irrefutable fact. Instead, the controversy swirls around the question of whether it is in the interest of the Jewish community to take a position that might provoke anti-Semitism in Turkey or harm Turkish-Israeli relations.
HR 106 already has 227 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and is supported by a majority of Jewish senators and congressmen across the nation, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Jane Harman (D-Venice). Most of the Jewish organizational establishment, however, is either waffling or desperately trying to avoid the issue. The facts are embarrassing.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, initially declined to take a position on whether the Armenian genocide occurred. When the ADL's executive director in Boston publicly criticized the refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide and called it "morally indefensible," Foxman fired him. Shortly thereafter, two ADL board members resigned in protest.
As a result of the ensuing criticism, Foxman modified his position to acknowledge that "there was an Armenian genocide," but continued to refuse to support the congressional resolution that "there was an Armenian genocide."
His rationale was that the congressional resolution is a "counterproductive diversion" that would offend Turkey's government and people, which could lead to violence against Turkish Jews and damage to Turkish-Israeli relations.
The ADL is not the only Jewish organization that has vacillated or is paralyzed by fear of exacerbating anti-Semitism. The reason these organizations have chosen to remain silent has nothing to do with the merits of the congressional resolution. It has everything to do with their being intimidated by anti-Semites, in this case Muslim extremists.
It is a tragic truth of Jewish history that there is nothing unusual about the inclination of Jewish leaders toward such appeasement. In the years leading up to and during World War II, the Jewish establishment - led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise - refused to protest the Roosevelt administration's failure to take action to rescue the Jews of Europe.
They castigated and marginalized as extremists Jewish activists, such as Peter Bergson and Ben Hecht, who publicly demanded that the government take action to stop the ongoing Holocaust. The Jewish establishment was fearful that it would make things worse to antagonize the Nazi leadership and to embarrass the American government by publicizing the terrible events unfolding in Europe.
In the 1970s, when the oppression of Soviet Jewry became an issue of moment, the Jewish establishment again demonstrated its lack of nerve. Most Jewish leaders were fearful of participating in large public demonstrations and eschewed taking a position on the Jackson-Vanik legislation that was designed to punish the Soviets unless they relaxed their restrictions on Jewish emigration. The rationale was that aggressive action would inflame Soviet anti-Semitism. Once again the policy of timidity was proven to be wrongheaded.
More recently, Jewish, Israeli and American leaders opposed implementing federal law requiring that the U.S. Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem because of fear of provoking Arab terrorism. Despite this capitulation to Muslim pressure, both Israel and the West have experienced a dramatic increase in terrorism.
If a Christian leader were to refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust out of fear of antagonizing Germany, Jews everywhere would justifiably be outraged. We would reject as unacceptable the excuse that "the Holocaust is only a Jewish issue."
The failure of the Jewish establishment to support congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide is similarly shameful. Given our history, the Jewish people should be in the forefront of speaking out against genocide.
Jewish leaders should refuse to be blackmailed by Muslim extremism. Turkish threats of retribution against Israel and Turkish Jews must be confronted and condemned.
History teaches that flinching in the face of anti-Semitism is cowardly, unprincipled, ineffective and dangerous. As Winston Churchill observed, "Those who appease the crocodile will simply be eaten last."
Steven M. Goldberg, an attorney, is vice chairman of the board of the Zionist Organization of America, Southern California Region.