Israel must address Armenian antisemitism

Toxic rhetoric is coming from the highest levels of the Armenian government.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after a meeting in Tehran in 2019. Credi: Press Office of the Government of Armenia.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after a meeting in Tehran in 2019. Credi: Press Office of the Government of Armenia.
Paul Miller
Paul Miller is a media and political consultant based in the Chicago area.

Aside from suffering the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and the ensuing war, Israel has faced significant challenges in the diplomatic arena.

Belize and Bolivia suspended relations with Israel, and at least eight other countries withdrew their ambassadors or other diplomats from the Jewish state.

While France did not recall its diplomats, President Emmanuel Macron stridently criticized Israel, telling the BBC that Israel’s military operation in Gaza has “no legitimacy” and “we do urge Israel to stop.” Macron lamented, “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed,” echoing the rhetoric of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who called Gaza “a graveyard for children.”

At the same time, flying relatively under the radar, a video circulated featuring virulent antisemitic and pro-Hamas comments from Vladimir Poghosyan—a former advisor to the chief of staff of Armenia’s armed forces and currently the leader of Committee 27, a popular political movement in the country. Poghosyan stated that he has “never recognized the Holocaust” and described Jews as “a destructive people, who have no right to be on this earth.”

He added that Israel is fortunate he has not personally assisted the terrorist groups seeking its destruction. “If only my intellect worked for Hezbollah or Hamas, not [only] 1,000 of your people would have been killed [on Oct. 7], but 100,000 people. I will consider the destruction of all of your people as the highest act of justice,” Poghosyan asserted.

Poghosyan’s genocidal remarks were not made a vacuum. On Nov. 15, the only synagogue in Armenia was set on fire by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) terrorist group. It marked ASALA’s second attack on the Mordechai Navi synagogue in the capital of Yerevan over the last two months, with the first occurring on Oct. 3, days before the Hamas massacre.

“We began our operations three days before the Operation Al-Aqsa Storm [Hamas’ name for the Oct. 7 massacre],” ASALA stated. “With our second operation [against the synagogue], we repeated the success of the Palestinian resistance. This second operation was carried out in solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements against Zionism.”

Poghosyan’s antisemitic remarks and ASALA’s attacks shouldn’t come as a surprise. They are part of a deeply rooted antisemitic tradition in Armenian society. Armenia has erected a monument in Yerevan honoring Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh and glorified Nzhdeh through a statue in Gyumri and streets in nearly 20 municipalities. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Some 58% of Armenians believe in antisemitic stereotypes, which is higher than Iranians (56%), who are ruled by a genocidally antisemitic regime.

The mainstream media pays scant attention to Armenian antisemitism and support for Hamas, while Israeli policymakers seldom comment on it. An exception was in Jan. 2021 when a report on global antisemitism from the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Ministry noted that the six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan during 2020 had “led to an alarming rise in the level of antisemitism on the part of the Armenians, which has come amid criticism of political cooperation and security trade between Israel and Azerbaijan.”

That criticism, the report explained, “was soon replaced by attacks on ethnic-religious groups and accusations against Jews of alleged historical and contemporary crimes against the Armenian people.”

Following the recent antisemitic words and actions of Poghosyan and ASALA, Israeli leaders should be asking themselves: Is it time for another official, public acknowledgment of Armenian antisemitism?

One reason it may be is that toxic antisemitic rhetoric emanates not only from former officials like Poghosyan but from the highest levels of the Armenian government. In July, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan used a Holocaust analogy to describe Azerbaijan’s liberation of its Karabakh region. At the time, while European rabbis called out Pashinyan’s false analogy in a letter to Armenian leaders, Israel and the American Jewish community did not issue similar condemnations.

Today, the war with Hamas presents a key opportunity to chart a new course. As Israel experiences diplomatic salvos from around the world, it is incumbent upon the Jewish state and its advocates to speak out against Armenian antisemitism. Ignoring this scourge will only exacerbate it at a time when Israel needs the international community’s support more than ever.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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