Last week, Israel marked Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to commemorate the genocide and murder of six million Jews by the Nazis.
Newspapers, TV shows and radio airwaves were filled with stories of the survivors – and the country paid attention.
It makes sense. The story of the establishment of the State of Israel is intertwined with the Holocaust. Survivors flocked to the country after the war, helped build it, fought for it in subsequent wars and deserve a large deal of credit for Israel’s spectacular success.
Last Sunday, though, a day was marked around the world, that went largely unnoticed in Israel. It was the 107th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide that commemorates the 1.5 million Armenians who were deported, massacred or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination by the Ottoman Empire.
US President Joe Biden issued a statement to commemorate the massacre, which he termed a “genocide” for the first time last year, in line with a promise he made on the campaign trail.
“We renew our pledge to remain vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” the president said. “We recommit ourselves to speaking out and stopping atrocities that leave lasting scars on the world.”
Turkey, as expected, responded angrily, calling Biden’s remarks “statements that are incompatible with historical facts and international law.”
Israel was noticeably quiet, and it is a silence that is a stain on the Jewish state. It shows how once again Jerusalem is preferring diplomatic and security interests over standing up for what is true and right, especially being a people that knows genocide firsthand.
As Prof. Israel Charney, one of the founders of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, wrote in these pages last month, Israel should not fear Turkey.
“Is it so beyond our imagination as Israelis to be able to say to Turkey at this time, ‘We have every respect for you as an important country and are happy to work closely with you, but we owe our own culture the clear cut responsibility to identify with a people whose historical record shows that they were subject to governmental extermination'?” Charney asked.
The continued Israeli refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide comes as Jerusalem is renewing diplomatic ties with Turkey. President Isaac Herzog recently visited Ankara and Israel obviously does not want to undermine those efforts.
What makes this wrong is that even when Israel’s ties with Turkey had hit rock bottom due to Erdogan’s vile antisemitism, the government also refused to recognize the Armenian genocide then. The reason was that it was better not to do something that would derail the chance for rapprochement. In other words, when ties are bad the timing is bad – and when ties are better the timing is also bad.
In 2019, after the US Senate recognized the genocide, Yair Lapid – then in the opposition – called on Israel to follow suit. He even proposed a bill that would obligate Israel to mark the day.
“It’s time to stop being afraid of the Sultan in Turkey and do what is morally right,” he tweeted at the time.
If it’s time to stop being afraid of the “Sultan in Turkey,” then why did Lapid not put out a statement last week? Why did he not order the Foreign Ministry to publicly mark the day?
Is doing “what is morally right” no longer the right thing to do?
The answer is obvious. What is easy to push for in the opposition is harder to do when you are foreign minister.
This is wrong. Israel’s approach to the Armenian genocide is too similar to the way it has managed its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the one hand offering support to Kyiv but on the other hand holding back from sanctions against Russia and public condemnations of President Vladimir Putin.
Policy on Ukraine has been dictated by security interests and the need to be able to continue operating in coordination with Russia in Syria. With the Armenian genocide, Israel is again letting diplomatic and security interests get in the way of what is the right and moral stance to take.
It is time for Israel to stop being afraid of Turkey and Russia. Standing up for what is moral and right strengthens nations. It is Israel’s time to do so.