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May 25, 2018 11:19 am

Amid Rising Tensions With Turkey, Israeli Politicians Push for Recognition of Armenian Genocide

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Photo: Knesset Spokesperson’s Office.

Amid rising tensions with Turkey this week, Israeli leaders have increased calls for the Jewish state to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.

On Thursday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called on the Israeli legislature to vote in favor of such a proposal, echoing calls from other politicians from across the political spectrum.

Approximately 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman government during World War I. Turkey has thus far vehemently refused to acknowledge these killings constituted a genocide.

In the past, to preserve its relations with Turkey, Israel has repeatedly declined to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, though Israeli officials have used softer language in the past to refer to it as an act of mass murder.

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However, a recent serious deterioration in Israel’s ties with Turkey has brought the issue to the fore once again. In the wake of the deaths of 60 Palestinians — most of them Hamas terrorists — during riots on the Gaza border last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of genocide, expelled the Israeli ambassador from the country, and subjected him to a humiliating security check at the airport upon his departure.

The proposed Knesset motion on recognizing the Armenian Genocide will come to a full vote next week.

According to Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, speaking at a formal discussion of the motion, Edelstein said, “The Israeli Knesset should recognize the Armenian genocide because it is the right thing to do, as human beings and as Jews. Already for years I have called for this moral debt to be paid. More than a million human beings were massacred and murdered in a short time, this is an atrocity that is difficult to conceive of.”

Edelstein also slammed those who wished to pass the law solely for political reasons. “I am ashamed to hear that elected and public officials are talking about how the recognition of murder is a ‘proper Zionist response’ to the contemptuous actions of Turkey after the recent events on the Gaza border,” he said. “Since when has Ankara adhered to our moral codes? Does history change according to the good of our relations with a leader like Erdogan?”

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg — who proposed the law — stated, “The non-recognition of the Armenian genocide is a moral stain on the State of Israel and especially when it is done for political interests.”

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli agreed, but cautioned that the process of recognition was far from over.

“This discussion is important and constitutes another step on the way to the goal, but there is no intention to be satisfied with it because the goal is formal and permanent recognition,” he said. “It is not proper that the government avoided an answer this evening, but in a few days it will nonetheless have to give one regarding our proposed law. Historical justice demands the Jewish nation state recognize this genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed in concentration camps, by gas, by drowning, by death marches, and systematic starvation.”

The Knesset rejected a similar proposal in February that was initiated by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. At the time, Lapid — the son of a Holocaust survivor — directly linked the genocide of the Armenians to that of the Jews.

“Hitler met with his army commanders,” Lapid said, “and told them — they had already started to plan the Holocaust of the Jews — ‘After all, who today still talks about the destruction of the Armenians.’ Because if we don’t doesn’t talk about the Holocausts, more Holocausts will happen. Because if we don’t recognize this genocide, there will be more genocides. And when we are silent about the Armenian genocide, this leads to silence on the Jewish genocide.”

Calling the issue “a basic moral question,” Lapid asserted, “We cannot allow ourselves to ignore the murder of another people, the murder of its children, its women, its elderly. This is immoral, unjust, and we have an obligation. This proposed law does not stand on terms of right-left, opposition or coalition, but only on the question of what our obligations are as moral people, as Israelis.”

Addressing reporters about the issue on Friday, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, “We believe that the fact that Israel is placing the events of 1915 on the same level as the Holocaust will cause harm to (Israel) itself.”

Gallia Lindenstrauss — a research fellow at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies — told The Algemeiner on Thursday, “I think the possible resolution will add a strain to an already very fragile relationship. As Turkey’s ambassador was already called back because of the US embassy move to Jerusalem, as well as a protest over the Palestinians killed in the recent skirmishes in Gaza, measures Turkey will take to protest such a resolution may lead to it downgrading relations or even worse than that. If the resolution passes, it will be tainted by the current revengeful attitude in Israel against Turkey.”

“However,” she added, “in the long run, there is special importance to the fact that Israel, in which around 40% of the Jewish people reside, and that sees itself as a representative of the Jewish people, recognizes this event as such. In the past it was not only the relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan that blocked the passing of such a resolution in the Israeli Parliament, but also the difficulty of Israelis to accept the comparison of the Holocaust to other cases of genocide.”

The Israeli governing coalition’s official position on the proposed motion is currently unclear.

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