Susan Hattis Rolef: The Armenians, the Jews and Israel

Roundup: Talking About History

The writer is a former Knesset employee.

In 1915-16, during World War I, the Turks were responsible for the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire. Among the first to warn about the nature and scope of the atrocity was Aaron Aaronsohn– the renowned agronomist from Zichron Ya’acov who established the Nili spy ring, which in the course of the war collected information about Ottoman military movements and other strategic issues and passed it on to the British authorities.

Several of Aaronsohn’s relatives and colleagues actually witnessed the bloody manifestations of the massacre. In November 1916, Aaronsohn sent the British authorities a memorandum entitled “Pro Armenia,” in which he described the atrocities.

The previous month, he had sent a long letter to Judge Julian Mack – a leading American Zionist – in which he tried to convince him to adopt a pro-British position, inter alia describing the massacre of the Armenians and claiming that the Ottoman policy against both the Armenians and the Jews (who he feared might suffer a similar plight) had “made in Germany” written all over it. The Ottoman Empire, it may be recalled, was an ally of Germany in the war, and at the time Aaronsohn was writing, many Jews held pro-German or neutral positions. The Jewish yishuv in Palestine, the Zionist Organization and the State of Israelsince1948 could not claim ignorance of what happened to the Armenians.

And yet until recently, Israel has chosen to ignore the event, with numerous excuses, each of which is shameful in its own right...

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