By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
There are pro and anti-Armenian individuals in every nationality. Jews are no exception. There are Jews who support us and those who oppose us. We should not generalize and paint everyone with the same brush. Armenians should not treat every Jew as an opponent just because the Israeli government denies the Armenian Genocide and sells billions of dollars of arms to Azerbaijan.
Armenians have the right to criticize the Israeli government and Jews who are anti-Armenian. I severely condemned Israel’s denial of the Armenian Genocide in my 2015 lecture at an Israeli University. After the lecture, I met with the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin and told him that the government of Israel, whose own people were victims of genocide, should have been the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide, not the last. Pres. Rivlin told me that he recognized the Armenian Genocide and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for denying it.
I just received copies of two letters sent by a group of righteous Israelis to their country’s top officials, requesting that they intervene with Azerbaijan to unblock the Lachin Corridor.
The first letter was sent to Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on January 15, 2023, asking for his assistance to prevent “a grave humanitarian crisis and loss of life” due to Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor. The 17 prominent Jewish signers of the letter, including Rabbis, journalists and scholars, wrote: “We believe that you, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, through your ties with your counterparts in Azerbaijan and Russia, can help to avoid this grave humanitarian crisis. Therefore we ask that you approach them urgently to work for the lifting of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”
The second letter was sent on August 11, 2023, to Israel’s President Isaac Herzog who had recently visited Azerbaijan. The letter-writers requested him “to make a personal appeal to your counterparts in Azerbaijan and demand their immediate removal of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.” The 35 prominent Jewish signers of the letter, including Rabbis, scholars, journalists, a former Cabinet Minister and Member of Knesset, architects and scientists, wrote: “The State of Israel enjoys close ties with Azerbaijan, the state which is responsible for this crisis, and has the ability to resolve it. These ties obligate the State of Israel to take a clear stand, and not to stand idly by…. The aid that we [Israel] provided [to Azerbaijan] means that we have a special responsibility not to be a bystander, and also gives us an important opportunity to have a positive impact. We cannot remain silent, especially in light of our historic and multilayered connection with the Armenian people.”
Beyond these letters, hundreds of Jews and Armenians in Israel held several protests during and after the 2020 Artsakh War. One of the protests was in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, criticizing the sale of Israeli arms to Azerbaijan. Some of the protesters held models of drones with blood stains painted on them with the words ‘Made in Israel.’
Avidan Freedman, one of the founders of Yanshoof, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, published an article in The Times of Israel on August 13, 2023, titled: “The Artsakh humanitarian crisis is our responsibility. Here’s why.” He wrote: “Israel provided Azerbaijan with 69% of its arms in the period between 2016 and 2020. During the 2020 Artsakh War, a senior Israeli military source asserted that ‘Azerbaijan would not have been able to continue its operation at this level without our support.’” Freedman concluded: “the current humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh was enabled by Israeli support…. The emerging humanitarian crisis, Israel’s military support of Azerbaijan, and the Jewish people’s historic and moral connection to the Armenian people combine to create a clear moral responsibility. Israel must take a moral stance and call on Azerbaijan to immediately lift its blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”
To illustrate the depth of pro-Armenian sympathies among some Jews, I would like to quote Dr. Israel Charny, one of the signers of the above mentioned two letters. He is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide and author of “Israel’s Failed Response to the Armenian Genocide.” In 2009, Charny and I were invited to speak at the UK Parliament. Since he could not attend due to illness, he submitted his speech in writing. Here is an excerpt: “No less than the arch fighter for peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Shimon Peres, now President of Israel, then serving as Israel’s Foreign Minister, twice went notably out of his way to insult the history and memory of the Armenian Genocide.”
In 2001, Charny sent a scathing letter to Peres: “You have gone beyond a moral boundary that no Jew should allow himself to trespass…. As a Jew and an Israeli, I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.”
In response to an “especially insulting” denial by Peres in 2002, Dr. Charny sent him one of my editorials in The California Courier, with the following note: “I am enclosing with great concern for your attention an editorial in a leading US-Armenian newspaper calling on Armenia to expel the Israeli Ambassador [Rivka Cohen, after she denied the Armenian Genocide]. For your further information, the author of this editorial, who is the head of the United Armenian Fund in the US — comparable to our United Jewish Appeal — was for many years a delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.”
Armenians should support their friends and criticize their opponents regardless of their nationality.