Friday, September 07, 2007

The "G" Word

The Anti–Defamation League has broken with most Jewish organizations and has called the Turkish slaughter of Armenians what is was: a genocide. The Turks continue to deny their history, and have used their leverage with the United States and Israel to keep these nations quiet as well.

I understand why Jews and many Israelis are reluctant to use the “g” word. Turkey is very important to Israel on a number of fronts, and poking a stick in the eye of the Turks is bad for business and Israeli security.

I understand that Israel is not a nation of saints or a saintly nation. Zionism was about realpolitik, building a homeland for Jews not a homeland for Jewish ideals. Many of us in the Diaspora conflate the two, and demand that Israel be a holy nation, but this is not possible. Nations, like corporations, have only one obligation: to see to the best interests of their stakeholders. If allowing the denial of the Armenian holocaust to continue is the price of Turkish cooperation, then so be it.

But understanding a problem doesn’t help my nausea over the fact that we Jews, of all people, are willing to help a country turn a blind eye to its genocidal past.

I am naïve, I suppose, but I want Jews in both Israel and the Diaspora to stand for something other than tribal solidarity and survival. The world doesn’t need Jews in name only. The gifts of the Jews to humanity have little to do with our genetic code and DNA, and everything to do with our prophets and wisdom sages. From Abraham to Jesus we stood against the status quo. And yes, when we were the status quo we exploited our own as a nation like every other. But we continually rose above our baser instincts and realpolitik and called ourselves and the world to a universal justice, compassion, and humility that trumped and transcended tribal concerns.

I just can’t get over how Jews, with our oh so sanctimonious “Never Again,” can pretend that other people don’t suffer genocidal madness of homicidal regimes. We all know the Armenian Holocaust happened, but we are too timid to say so.

Rabbi Hillel said two thousand years ago: In a place where there are no heroes, be a hero. Bravo to the heroism of the ADL for their willingness to use the “G” word and allow the Armenians and their suffering its rightful place in history. How sad for the rest of our institutions, and the State that claims to speak for all Jews, that our fear is greater than our shame.

This is the season of asking others for forgiveness. It would be a powerful first step toward regaining our honor if our Jewish organizations and State asked the Armenian people to forgive our cowardice. By admitting we are cowards we might find the prophetic passion to be heroes once again.

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