The Armenian Genocide, Turkey and the Jews
03/05/2010 - 13:12
James Besser

In the stories-that-never-die department, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, under the stewardship of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), has passed a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

In more than two decades of covering the Jewish scene in Washington, I've found this to be one of the most durable stories, returning every few years with different actors but much the same script, with Jewish groups playing bit parts, although some of the main players think they should be stars.

It goes like this: representatives of Armenian American groups think the Jews should be particularly sensitive to the issue of historical remembrance and efforts to deny terrible events of the past. So they come to Jewish groups and plead for help getting their genocide recognized by the U.S. government, and generally they find a sympathetic ear.

But Turkey also thinks the Jewish lobby is the key to their top legislative priority, which is blocking any Armenian genocide resolution. So they come to the Jews and say passage would hurt Israel's relations with Turkey, one of few nations in the Islamic world that gets along with Israel, and devastate U.S.-Turkish relations.

They get a sympathetic hearing from pro-Israel pragmatists, who only ask: is it good for Israel?

Presidents generally promise to help the Armenians when they're on the campaign trail but end up siding with Turkey once in office. Former President George W. Bush did that, and now it looks like President Barack Obama is following in his footsteps, and will try to keep the non-binding resolution from getting to the House floor. The issue for them: maintaining U.S.-Turkey relations.

Predictably, the new Turkish ambassador in Washington was recalled for consultation after this week's vote.

It used to be that I'd get a lot of righteous-sounding statements from Jewish groups on both  sides every time an Armenian Genocide resolution would hit the House of Representatives.

That's diminished in recent years as the Israel side of the equation gets more and more prominent in the Jewish organizational world. As far as I can tell, the only Jewish group that has said anything about the current  Armenian Genocide resolution is the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which opposes it.  A long list of liberal Jewish groups that used to actively support passage of an Armenian Genocide resolution, have gone silent.

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