The Banality of Indifference

The Genocide of Armenians by Turks during the First World War was one of the most horrendous deeds of modern times and was a precursor and archetype of the genocidal acts that have marked the rest of the 20th century. Despite the worldwide attention the atrocities received at the time, this genocide has not remained a part of the world's historical consciousness. The parallels between the Jewish and Armenian situations and the reactions of the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv) to the Armenian Genocide are explored by Yair Auron in his new book, The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide. The translation of this important book from its original Hebrew into English was sponsored by the Zoryan Institute, and the book is published by Transaction Publishers.

Auron raises theoretical, philosophical, and moral questions about concepts of genocide and the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust. After a brief historical introduction, the author discusses the reaction to the Genocide within the Yishuv in terms of practical assistance for and identification with the Armenians. The Jewish position was unquestionably difficult during the period of the First World War; Palestine was under Ottoman control, and Germany, a Turkish ally, was looked to by some Zionists as a potential source of support. Consequently, the official Yishuv reaction was muted and largely self-interested: there was no condemnation in journals, internal protocols, or letters. Auron does record instances of Jewish support, however: the Nili group, an underground intelligence organization, actively sought to aid the Armenian victims; Chaim Weizman and Nahum Sokolov publicly condemned the killings; and other Zionist writers and journalists expressed outraged identification with the Armenians and tried to arouse the conscience of the world. In attempting to analyze and interpret these disparate reactions, Auron maintains a fair-minded balance in assessing claims of altruism and self-interest, expressed in universal, not only Jewish, terms.

While not denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust, Auron carefully distinguishes it from the Armenian Genocide, reviewing existing theories and relating Armenian and Jewish experience to ongoing issues of politics and identity. As a groundbreaking work of comparative history, The Banality of Indifference will be read by Armenian area specialists, historians of Zionism and Israel, and students of genocide.

Yair Auron is senior lecturer at The Open University of Israel and the Kibbutzim College of Education. He is the author of several Hebrew language studies: Jewish-Israeli Identity, Sensitivity to World Suffering: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, We are All German Jews, and Jewish Radicals in France During the Sixties and Seventies (published in French as well).