The prize for New Year Message of the Year goes to Ha’aretz for its editorial last week on the Armenian genocide.
It was significant in the first place that the Israeli daily used the word “genocide” to characterise the killing of a million and a half Armenians by Turkish troops in 1915. Relations between Israel and Turkey are important to both countries - and Turkey doesn’t take kindly to others acknowledging the bloody facts of its imperial past.
But what made the Ha’aretz commentary momentous was that it confronted head-on the most sacred myth of Zionist ideology - that the Nazi genocide of the Jews gives Israel a unique moral status to the extent that hostility to ‘the Jewish State’ can be taken as synonymous with hostility to Jews.
Anyone who has been involved in recent years in campaigning for Palestinian rights will know that, increasingly, the allegation of anti-semitism has become not just the last resort but the first instinct of Israel’s defenders. This is cynical and opportunist misuse of the vast suffering of Jewish people at the hands of Hitler.
Ha’aretz makes the point with crystalline clarity in relating the Armenian issue to the angry reaction of the Turkish Government to the killing of nine Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara, part of the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza which was boarded by Israeli commandos in the Mediterranean in May 2010.
The Ha’aretz editorial was sparked by statements from leading Israeli politicians suggesting that Israel now should follow France in making it a crime to deny the truth of the Armenian genocide.
“The possibility of officially recognizing the Armenian genocide was for years weighed in terms of Israel’s foreign-policy interests in Turkey, on the one hand, and fear over the loss of the concept of ‘Holocaust’ as an exclusive Jewish ‘property’ on the other. Morality or identification with the Armenian holocaust were secondary issues that occasionally made their way into the public debate...
“In this context, it is worth recalling that after the Turkish flotilla incident, a number of Knesset members and cabinet ministers threatened to put the Armenian genocide on the Israeli agenda, to avenge the verbal attacks against Israel by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Indeed, the MKs [Knesset members] who hitched a ride on the coattails of the new French law that makes denial of the Armenian genocide a criminal offence appear to be motivated more by political vindictiveness than a genuine desire to right a historical wrong.
“Israel had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its solidarity with the Armenian people when Jerusalem-Ankara relations were good.
“But at the time, Israel chose moral silence, and even used its friends in the US Congress to keep it from recognising the Armenian genocide.
“Israel, one of the last countries in the world to occupy another nation and to deny the memory of the Palestinian Nakba [the ‘cleansing’ of the land which Jewish immigrants settled], cannot wrap itself in the flag of morality now, while the embers of political account-settling burn beneath it. No special Knesset deliberations are needed in order to teach the Armenian genocide - or the Nakba - in Israel’s schools; the education minister has the authority to make these decisions without creating a circus of hollow morality.
“The approximately 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered or driven out in death marches in 1915 deserve international recognition of the holocaust they suffered. Above all, they deserve Turkey’s recognition of this terrible chapter of history.
“But for Israel to make this recognition at a time that is politically convenient to it, as part of a tit-for-tat and as a means to provoke Turkey, is light years away from the recognition the Armenian people deserve.”
It is well to remind ourselves, as we contemplate the appalling prospects for the Middle East in the year to come, that there is another Israel, its decency articulated by Ha’aretz. And we might usefully remind ourselves, too, as we survey the moral wreckage of most of the media in most of the world, that there is another journalism, of which the first duty is to speak truth to power.
Read more from Eamonn McCann in the Journal every Tuesday