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On ADL, Turkey and the Armenian Question

I was interested to read Joey Kurtzman’s critique of Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League, and their position on the resolution of the Armenian question in Turkish history.

Before turning to the Armenian-Turkish controversy, let me say that I agree with Kurtzman that Foxman has focused unproductively on an alleged threat to American Jews from believing Christians. It is true that some Christian activists slip into the long-established and repellent tropes of historic Jew-baiting (I dislike the unscientific and anachronistic term “anti-Semitism”), especially when dealing with “the new world order.” But nobody serious can argue that American Christians have been swept by “conversion fever” toward Jews. I have much greater concerns about increased Jew-baiting in the guise of criticism of the neoconservatives, a matter Foxman and ADL have ignored.

One poster, however, asserted that “Foxman has consistently ignored or worse, appeased actual, real and arguably much more dangerous examples of Muslim anti-Semitism here in the U.S.” As a moderate Muslim, I consider this statement partially incorrect. Abe Foxman cannot be accused of appeasing Muslim Jew-baiting. Indeed, I was alarmed not long ago when Foxman was alleged to have declared that ADL cannot undertake dialogue with moderate Muslims because there are no moderate Muslims.

Jew-baiting has long been a problem in the American Muslim community. It is time Muslims admitted the negative character of this phenomenon, mainly caused by the domination in American Islam of ethnic groups among which hatred of Jews has been cultivated by extremist ideologues. African-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Pakistani-Americans make up the overwhelming majority in American Islam. Many African-Americans bring hostility to Jews with them into Islam. Arabs have obviously been saturated with paranoia about Jews, and Pakistanis have come under the spell of Judeophobia thanks to the financial and other penetration of their native country, and its military and intelligence institutions, by Islamist radicals.

Nevertheless, there are more moderate Muslims willing to participate in serious dialogue with Jews and Israelis than is popularly believed. Another poster, replying to Kurtzman, defended Turkey as one of only three Muslim countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Israel – presumably referring to Jordan and Egypt as the other two. This is also inaccurate. Albania, Azerbaijan (a Shia Muslim country), Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzia, Mauritania, Senegal, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, and Qatar has never completely cut off its trade relations with Israel. Other Muslim countries, such as Morocco and Oman, have also maintained such back-channel links.

Some of these regimes, e.g. Uzbekistan, have bad human-rights records. But notwithstanding the unhelpful jibes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Kazakhstan, which has made measurable progress toward democratization, is also profoundly committed to Jewish-Muslim dialogue, and has hosted American Jewish religious and community leaders. Most important, Joey Kurtzman’s analysis of Foxman and ADL’s bad posture on Turkey and the Armenians is correct. The term “successful genocide” may be legitimately limited to the Jewish experience, since the Nazi liquidation of European Judaism was uniquely extensive. But it is clear that Turkey has failed to adequately account for its actions against the Armenians during the First World War. This is not a matter of an exclusively Armenian grievance.

Turkish secular Sunni Muslims, members of the Turkish and Kurdish Alevi Muslim minority (as many as 18 million people or 25 percent of the republic’s population, who hew to a fusion of Shia, Sufi, and pre-Islamic Turkish beliefs), other Orthodox Christians in Turkey, and the rest of the Kurds all have a stake in Turkish truth about the Armenians. That is because the Armenians stand for the fate of all religious and ethnic minorities that were submitted to compulsory Turkification by the republic’s government. Even the 500-year old Sephardic Jewish community was forced to adopt Turkish, rather than Judeo-Spanish, as its main medium of culture. The attempt to force all residents of the republic into a single Turkish identity has a complicated history. Suffice it to note here that while they have mainly been identified with Turkish secularism, the same chauvinist attitudes are supported by the Sunni-centric AKP party now in power in Ankara.

And that is the real problem. Turkey has used its relations with Israel and the situation of its Jewish community to blackmail American Jews into silence about the Armenians, to say nothing of the Alevis or Kurds. But Abdullah Gul, who had the arrogance to lobby American Jewish leaders to assist in continued suppression of the truth about the Armenian question, is an AKP Islamist whose party discriminates against all the aforementioned minorities. In addition, the AKP has allowed a dangerous anti-American rhetoric to grow in Turkey, complete with threats to invade Iraqi Kurdistan on the pretext of Kurdish nationalist radicalism. And if that were not enough, a Turkish popular literature proliferates, that is filled with anti-Jewish paranoia. Disreputable accusations had long been taught as history in Saudi Arabian schools: that the Turkish Sephardim, or descendants of those that became Muslim from among the followers of the false messiah Sabbetai Zevi, brought about the fall of the Ottoman caliphate. But such claims are now widely offered in Turkish bookshops.

It has often been said that the treatment of the Jews by a government is a standard by which to judge the civility, stability, and level of human dignity present in a country. By that gauge, Bosnia-Hercegovina is far ahead of some Christian as well as Muslim lands. But in Turkey, the Armenians play this role. The standing of the Armenian victims in Turkish history is the criterion for determining whether Turkey will become truly democratic as well as secular, will grant autonomy to its minorities, and will refrain from pursuing its Kurdophobic tendencies into a disastrous confrontation with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. American Jews cannot allow their international stature to be compromised by the demands of unreliable allies like Abdullah Gul and the AKP. That alone is an urgent reason to repudiate the unfortunate involvement of Foxman and ADL in Turkish-Armenian affairs.

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