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Recycled: How the ADL and Its Defenders Get Realpolitik Wrong

[Note: Now that President Bush has officially declared his opposition to the House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, I thought it might be worthwhile to re-examine Turkey's supposed importance to "stability" in the Middle East. I wrote this blog post … Read More

By / October 10, 2007

[Note: Now that President Bush has officially declared his opposition to the House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, I thought it might be worthwhile to re-examine Turkey's supposed importance to "stability" in the Middle East. I wrote this blog post a little over a month ago. -MW

In his academic satire The Catastrophist Lawrence Douglas envisions a great auction of ethnic self-pity. At a conference in Berlin, Daniel Wellington, an art historian of war memorials, shrivels before an Armenian scholar who maintains that Germany should erect an “omnibus” memorial to honor not just the victims of the Holocaust but all victims of atrocity. (Wellington is there to argue the opposite case.) “Doesn’t the long history of the suffering of the Jews,” submits Professor Kostygian, “contain the suffering of all peoples?” A trifle sententious, but this remark hits the right note with the audience. Kostygian’s Armenian grandparents were slaughtered by the expiring Ottoman regime during World War I, and yet, as he later admits to Wellington in private, the “universality of atrocity” hasn’t got a fighting chance.

When the interests of two embattled and victimized minorities collide, you can be sure that cant and moral hypocrisy will prevail. I’ve remembered Douglas’s vignette in the current scandal over the Anti-Defamation League’s refusal to even recognize, let alone commemorate, the Armenian Genocide. My colleague and comrade Joey Kurtzman has brilliantly shown how the “watchdog” organization founded in the 1930’s to combat anti-Semitism has now become another mangy outfit worthy of invigilation itself. The public pressure brought to bear on the ADL since Joey’s “Fire Foxman” article first appeared in Jewcy has been intense, yet the group’s position remains unchanged. The ADL still will not unequivocally state that between 1915 and 1917 Turkey slaughtered and displaced up to a million and a half Armenians, and it still will not back the Congressional resolution that recognizes this event as the first genocide of the 20th century.

The whole issue rests of course on that teetering concept realpolitik. We must therefore consign to the dustbin of idealism a few annoying facts: namely, that in 1943 a Polish Jew named Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” to describe the annihilation of European Jewry, and that twenty years before, he instanced the annihilation of Armenians as a prototypical example that would yield an inevitable sequel. Never mind, also, that in 1939 Adolf Hitler was given to exclaim, “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” as his own "realist" justification for implementing the Final Solution.

To put the matter bluntly, the American Jewish community is worried about alienating Turkey, the strongest military ally of Israel in the Middle East. Turkey is today a member of NATO and a seemingly permanent candidate for European Union membership, a status imperiled by its policy of making acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide a national crime: "denigrating Turkishness” in the official script. Turkey has brought unending shame upon itself by attempting to prosecute its own Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk for speaking the truth about his country’s blood-stained past, and there is evidence to suggest that the Turkish police—ever the wayward arm, along with the military, of the Kemalist state— were behind the murder of the beloved dissident journalist Hrant Dink for similar reasons.

As reactionary as its domestic policies have been, Turkey has a shown a radical willingness to align with Israel in matters of geopolitical importance. Last summer, it committed U.N. troops to help disarm Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and it routinely shares intelligence and conducts counterinsurgency exercises with the IDF. This special relationship is thus brokered on “security,” the ultimate trump card on humanitarian concerns for a staunchly pro-Israel contingent of American Jews.

A tipping point in the current ADL controversy was reached last week when the left-leaning Jewish newspaper The Forward published an astonishing editorial heralding a “post-Holocaust” age in which“[r]emembering genocide is important, but not as important as saving lives today.” The Forward was less clear about which lives are to be saved simply by asking the ADL to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but the editorial begged an interesting question. Just how vital is Israel’s alliance with Turkey, and should Diaspora Jews really be lobbying for its continuance?

There are four reasons to suspect that realpolitik is, as ever, wishful thinking garbed in the wardrobe of cynical excuses.

The “ancient history” argument applies just as stingingly to Turkey. What’s past is past, only the future matters. If this is the hollow core of The Forward’s logic, then we must ask: Why can it not be applied with equal force to the Turkish gambit of denial?

If Turkey admitted the Ottoman Empire's barbarism, how could this be construed as a blight on the democratic state, founded, let's not forget, on a feverishly pro-Western policy of modernization? Unless one thinks that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown should stand trial for the Amritsar Massacre, the acknowledgment of a decades-old atrocity in a parliamentary regime is ethical but academic. The price of truth and reconciliation is, in “realist” terms, smaller to pay.

Unlike Saddam’s genocide of the Kurds or Milosevic’s genocide of Balkan Muslims, no participant in the current Turkish government orchestrated the genocide of Armenians almost a century ago. But an entire nation robs itself of moral credibility by continuing to deny what the rest of the world long ago accepted as historical fact. Would it not benefit Turkey and its allies to settle this national question once and for all?

Turkey is hostile to the Kurds, who are more valuable friends of Israel. The Armenian Question is not the only one bedeviling Turkey, which has long persecuted its Kurdish minority under the pretext of “assimilation.” It outlawed, until recently, the Kurdish language and jailed one of the country’s most charismatic Kurdish parliamentarians, Leyla Zana, for “separatist speech.” However, the war in Iraq has forever changed the dynamics of discrimination in the Mediterranean.

If Iraq breaks up into three separate countries"Sunnistan," "Shiastan," and Kurdistanthere is every indication that the Turkish military would attempt an invasion of an independent Kurdistan to thwart the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk from failing into the Kurdish sphere of influence. The Turkish army is already fighting what amounts to a civil war in the southern, mainly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir. But as Seymour Hersh documented in a 2004 New Yorker article, any attempt by Turkey to antagonize Suleimaniyah would also objectively antagonize Tel Aviv.

After the fall of Saddam’s regime, Israel re-established its covert training and intelligence-sharing program, first conceived in the sixties, with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Hersh cited Intel Brief, a newsletter circulated by two CIA counterterrorism experts, who concluded that Iraqi Kurds were helping Israel uncover the details of Iran’s nuclear weapons project, and bolstering opposition to the Assad dictatorship in Syria—much to the chagrin of Ankara.

Good. As far as both Israel and the United States are concerned, the Kurds make for better secular Muslim allies in the Middle East, and their readiness to help either government despite former betrayals is nothing short of a monument to stoicism and friendship.

Turkey has somehow maintained its amicable relationship with Israel despite its threatening security arrangement with the Kurds. How absurd to think that the ADL’s about-face on the Armenian Genocide could possible endanger that relationship.

The Turkish government is still openly anti-Semitic. It defies irony that the ADL, normally so attuned to the faintest whiff of Jew-hatred in international media, will truckle to the Islamist regime of the newly elected Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

As recently as last year, Turkey produced a laughable state-funded film entitled Valley of the Wolves Iraq, also known as the “Turkish Rambo.” Chronicling a minor incident involving Turkish special forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the action movie was a high-budget exercise in conspiracy-mongering. It also trafficked in an anti-Semitic caricature that would have done Der Sturmer proud. One subplot of Valley of the Wolves featured Gary Busey – yes, Gary Busey – as an American Jewish Army doctor who steals organs from Iraqis and sells them to wealthy patients in New York, London and Tel Aviv.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was given a private screening of the film, which went on to become Turkey’s biggest blockbuster to date, and Gul himself said it was “no worse than some of the productions of Hollywood studios.” How right he was two years after The Passion of the Christ, still the ADL’s bete noir of anti-Semitic cinema.

In other words, Turkey has been undermining the popularity of its own alliance with Israel, and using bigotry of a higher magnitude than anything the ADL routinely condemns.

The critics of the “Israel Lobby” benefit from the ADL’s stance. Now that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have ballooned their notorious thesis – that a powerful “Israel Lobby” wields undo influence over U.S. foreign policy – into a book, who better to rebut them than… Abe Foxman!

On the very same day that The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy was published, Foxman’s own counterargument hit the shelves as The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. If they were so inclined to challenge their challenger, Mearsheimer and Walt could start with Foxman’s title and proceed from there: “How dare a man who refuses to acknowledge a genocide accuse us of spreading the 'deadliest lies'?” Moreover, the cretinous maneuvering of the ADL conforms almost perfectly to the Harvard scholars’ theory about just how far American Jewish organizations will go to protect Israel. The ADL’s press release on the Armenian Genocide might as well be blurbed on The Israel Lobby’s book jacket.

If The Forward is really out for the Jewish state’s best interests, how can it possibly hope to defend them by standing behind such a flammable straw man as Abe Foxman?

* Check our always up-to-date list of Jewcy's posts on the ADL/Armenian Genocide issue

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