Friday, April 11, 2014

Turkish expulsion could have been worse

 Jamal Pasha, Ottoman military governor of Syria, on the shores of the Dead Sea (Wikimedia)

Why during the First World War did the Ottoman Turks commit genocide against the Armenians, but spared the Jews ? This article in the Armenian news medium Asbarez  says that the answer, according to a book by Israeli Professor Yair  Auron, amounts to 'the Jewish lobby'. This is not to underestimate the great suffering endured by non-Ottoman Jews deported north from Palestine on the eve of Passover 1917: some 1, 500 Jewish deportees are estimated to have died.

Armenians and Jews, as minorities in the Ottoman Empire, were convenient scapegoats for the whims of ruthless Turkish leaders. Interestingly, the Young Turks used the same arguments for deporting both Armenians and Jews. The Turks had accused Armenians for cooperating with the advancing Russian Army, while similarly blaming Jews for cooperating with British forces invading Ottoman Palestine. Furthermore, Jews were accused of planning to establish their own homeland in Palestine, just as Armenians were allegedly establishing theirs in Eastern Turkey. In yet another parallel, Jamal Pasha, one of the members of the Young Turk triumvirate, had cynically commented that he was “expelling the Jews for their own good,” just as Armenians were forcefully removed “away from the war zone” for their own safety!

In 1914, when Turkey entered World War I on the German side and against the Allied Powers (England, Russia, and France), Palestine became a theater of war. Turkish authorities imposed a war tax on the population, which fell more heavily on the Jewish settlers. Their properties and other possessions were confiscated by the Turkish military. Some Jewish settlers were used as slave labor to build roads and railways. Alex Aaronsohn, a Jewish settler in Zichron Yaacov, wrote in his diary: “an order had recently come from the Turkish authorities, bidding them surrender whatever firearms or weapons they had in their possession. A sinister command, this: we knew that similar measures had been taken before the terrible Armenian massacres, and we felt that some such fate might be in preparation for our people,” as quoted in Yeghiayan’s “Pro Armenia.”

In Fall 1914, the Turkish regime issued an expulsion order for all “enemy nationals,” including 50,000 Russian Jews who had escaped from Czarist persecutions and settled in Palestine. After repeated intercessions by German Ambassador Hans Wangenheim and American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, these “enemy nationals” were allowed to stay in Palestine, if they agreed to acquire Ottoman citizenship.

Nevertheless, on December 17, 1914, Jamal Pasha’s subordinate, Bahaeddin, governor of Jaffa, implemented the expulsion order, deporting 500 Jews who were grabbed from the streets and dragged to police headquarters, and from there forced to board ships docked in the harbor. Homes of Jewish settlers were searched for weapons. Hebrew-language signs were removed from shops and the Jewish school of Jaffa was closed down. Zionist organizations were dissolved, and on January 25, 1915, the Turkish authorities issued a declaration against “the dangerous element known as Zionism, which is struggling to create a Jewish government in the Palestinian area of the Ottoman Kingdom….”

In response to protests from Amb. Morgenthau and the German government, Constantinople reversed the deportation order and Bahaeddin was removed from his post. According to Prof. Auron, the condition of the Jewish settlers could have been much worse had it not been for “the influence of world Jewry on Turkish policy…. The American, German, and Austrian Jewish communities succeeded in restraining some of its harsher aspects. Decrees were softened; overly zealous Turkish commanders were replaced and periods of calm followed the times of distress.”

Back in 1913, Pres. Wilson had instructed Amb. Morgenthau upon his appointment: “‘Remember that anything you can do to improve the lot of your co-religionists is an act that will reflect credit upon America, and you may count on the full power of the Administration to back you up.’ Morgenthau followed this advice faithfully,” according to Isaiah Friedman’s book, “Germany, Turkey and Zionism: 1897-1918.” After arranging for the delivery of much needed funds from American Jews to Jaffa, Morgenthau wrote to Arthur Ruppen, director of the Palestine Development Association: “I have been the chosen weapon to take up the defense of my co-religionists….”

In spring 1917, the Turkish authorities issued a second order to deport 5,000 Jews from Tel Aviv. Aaron Aaronsohn, leader of the Nili group – a small Jewish underground organization in Palestine working for British intelligence – immediately disseminated the news of the deportation to the international media. Aaronsohn secretly met with British diplomat Mark Sykes in Egypt and through him sent an urgent message to London on April 28, 1917: “Tel Aviv has been sacked. 10,000 Jews in Palestine are now without home or food. Whole of Yishuv [Jewish settlements in Palestine] is threatened with destruction. Jamal [Pasha] has publicly stated Armenian policy will now be applied to Jews.”

Upon receiving Aaronsohn’s reports from Palestine, Chaim Weizmann, a key pro-British Zionist in London, transmitted the following message to Zionist leaders in various European capitals: “Jamal Pasha openly declared that the joy of Jews at the approach of British troops would be short lived as he would them share the fate of the Armenians…. Jamal Pasha is too cunning to order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to starvation and death by thirst, epidemics, etc….”

American Jews were outraged hearing of the deportations in Palestine. News reports were issued throughout Western countries on “Turkish intentions to exterminate the Jews in Palestine,” according to Prof. Auron. Moreover, influential Jewish businessmen in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded that their governments pressure Turkish leaders to abandon their plans to deport Jews. Jamal Pasha was finally forced to rescind the expulsion order and provided food and medical assistance to Jewish refugees in Tel Aviv.

Read article in full 

Exodus TO Egypt: the forgotten refugees of 1917 


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Prof A S Yahuda felt concern over the fate of the Jews in Israel from the very beginning of the war in 1914. He wrote a letter to Oscar Straus in New York hoping that he would use his influence with the German govt to prevent persecution.

The blog post at the link above also has some interesting info about Isaac Newton and the disinterest of British univs in Newton's papers dealing with Biblical and Jewish subjects, including prophecy, etc

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I have also lately seen the Big Lie in print [inc. also on the Net] that Iraqi Jews had no interest in Zion or the Land of Israel before 1948. Prof Yahuda was born in Israel in 1877 to parents who had come from Iraq.

Yigal Bibi was a leader in the NRP and became a minister in the cabinet on behalf of the NRP. His family came in the 19th century from Iraq too. They settled in the Galilee.

Bill said...

Another factor is likely that Jews did not pose the same threat to the Ottomans as did the Armenians. The Armenians were the indigenous people of a large chunk of the Turkish core of the Ottoman Empire and as such were viewed by the Turks as challengers to Turkish sovereignty and the legitimacy of the Ottoman state. We Jews, on the other hand, were indigenous to what for the Turks was a peripheral area. While they preferred to keep their Empire at its maximum extent, the loss of Israel would not be of great significance, and Jewish claims did not challenge the legitimacy of the Turkish state.

I think that the generalization can be made that the Turks have behaved most savagely toward minorities whose claims challenged their own (Armenians, Greeks, Kurds) and were relatively tolerant towards minorities whose claims did not (Jews, Circassians, Copts, Assyrians, etc.).

bataween said...

I beg to disagree, Bill. The Ottomans imported Muslims into Palestine in the 19th precisely to frustrate any notion of Jewish self-determination.