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UPDATE: Jews and Armenians discuss genocide denial at UCLA, say stirring things

So here's the promised update on the panel discussion on genocide denial that took place Thursday night at UCLA. Commenter Micromike wonders whether anything was accomplished. I frankly don't know. The discussion was interesting. Professor David Myers drew incisive connections … Read More

By / March 9, 2008

So here's the promised update on the panel discussion on genocide denial that took place Thursday night at UCLA. Commenter Micromike wonders whether anything was accomplished. I frankly don't know. The discussion was interesting. Professor David Myers drew incisive connections between the experience of the Armenian and Jewish communities; Professor Richard Hovanessian gave a fascinating talk on the rhetorical moves deployed by genocide deniers; I argued that while issues such as those are complex enough to support endless academic study, the moral contours of this situation are very stark—one needn't consult scholars to know that Jewish orgs ought not support a campaign of genocide denial. Then Aram Hamparian placed all this in the context of his work as head of the Armenian National Committee, and also made some very kind and encouraging comments about Jewcy. Phantom says he hopes the experience was meaningful for me, and yes, absolutely it was. Having a chance to sit next to, and engage with, David Myers, Richard Hovanessian, and Aram Hamparian, was as edifying as it was flattering.

But of course that's entirely irrelevant. There are cheaper and easier ways to edify and flatter ourselves than to hold a genocide denial panel discussion at UCLA. There were people who flew across the country for this discussion (afterward, one person came up to me and said she flew in from Chicago, and another said that he came from Arizona; Mr. Hamparian flew in from DC): presumably, they weren't there just to hear interesting or stirring things. They must have hoped that something significant was actually going to come out of it. On my end, there's one preeminent criterion by which I'll judge whether the event was a success: did it do anything at all that will make genocide denial a less acceptable political manuever to leaders of Jewish-American orgs such as the AJC (David Harris) and the ADL (Abraham Foxman). Will it cause anything to happen that in turn causes people lower down in these organizations to say to these men, "I understand how simple-minded and Polyanna-ish this sounds, but I really think we need to consider the idea that supporting a genocide denial campaign is really just deeply problematic, political considerations aside." If that's too much to hope, then I'd be satisfied if supporters came to them and said, "listen, this isn't just some bullshit about 'morality' or 'the memory of the Holocaust'—it's actually serious. People out there are saying all kinds of damnfool things about our supporting Turkey's campaign of 'genocide denial,' and it could turn out to have very negatives consequences for this organization." If that happens–if one person in either of those organizations can muster up the conviction to say either of those things to Abraham Foxman or David Harris–I'd call the event a success. But maybe I'm more easily satisfied than people who flew across the country hoping to witness some progress in ending denial of their family/community's systematic murder, I don't know.

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