How Israel Quashed 1982 Efforts to Recognize the Armenian GenocideHistorians in the News
tags: Israel, human rights, Armenian genocide, academic freedom
In the summer of 1982, Israel's Foreign Ministry set to work on a special mission. “We continue to spare no effort on this issue, which is currently a central one on our agenda,” an internal ministry document says of the mission. “We shall leave no stone unturned, whether or not this thing succeeds,” another document says. “Intensive treatment that encompasses both institutions and public figures in Israel and abroad… feverish and tireless efforts… at the highest diplomatic levels,” other documents add.
The mission that so occupied the Foreign Ministry personnel 40 years ago had nothing to do with the First Lebanon War, which had just begun, but with another much larger and deadlier war: the Armenian genocide in 1915, during which an estimated 1.5 million people were killed by the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
Following U.S. President Joe Biden’s formal recognition on April 24 of the genocide, it’s particularly interesting to see how Israel not only denied the horrific mass murders – a policy to which it still adheres – but also tried to influence others to act in the same manner.
A recently released file from the National Archives reveals Israeli efforts during that summer four decades ago to thwart an academic conference due to be held in the country, focusing both on the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. The documents in question offer a lesson in realpolitik and the willingness to sacrifice fundamental values of the type that any democratic society – especially one established after the calamity of the Holocaust – is supposed to hold dear, on the alter of political and security-related interests, among other reasons.
Beginning in April 1982, from the day the conference was first announced, the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to sabotage it never ceased. These efforts, which went on for two months, bore fruit.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem withdrew its initial sponsorship of the event, Tel Aviv University declined to take part, the Henrietta Szold Institute pledged not to provide funding for it, Holocaust survivor and then-future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel resigned his post as conference chairman, and a number of prominent historians, including Prof. Yehuda Bauer, said they would not to attend. The conference did ultimately take place, but in a much watered-down and unofficial framework.
“We continue to act to reduce and diminish the Armenian issue to the extent of our ability by every possible means,” according to one Foreign Ministry document from the summer of 1982.
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