Why Israel Should Recognize the Armenian Genocide
Now that Israel’s political relationship with Turkey is teetering on the edge of the precipice, it is time for the government of the Jewish state to recognize the Armenian holocaust of the last century — officially and irrevocably — as a genocide.
This historical horror, initiated by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915, resulted in the murders of 1.5 million Armenians, as well as scores of Greeks, Assyrians, and other populations. The current Turkish government, headed by the dictatorial fundamentalist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has not admitted responsibility for its predecessors’ crimes and likely won’t in the future. A bill proposed in the Israeli Knesset to make the recognition official was reportedly withdrawn following instructions that the word “genocide” be scrapped in favor of less-powerful labels.
This is a mistake and a historical injustice. But it can be corrected.
Israel and Turkey have a variety of commercial ties that, apparently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wishes to retain, despite Erdoğan’s exhortations to reduce business with the Jewish state. Additionally, Turkey is regarded as a US ally in the battle against ISIS, even though Turkey has a horrendous human rights record, given practices such as the decline of press freedoms and the orchestration of a campaign of violence against the Kurds. Many Israelis also travel to Turkey as a vacation spot. So this is clearly a complicated situation.
Yet it’s not too complicated for justice to be served. As a country that houses numerous citizens whose ancestors perished during the Holocaust, Israel shares common ground with the Armenians, including my friend Aram, who lost numerous family members during the Ottomans’ government-mandated genocide. This is all the more reason for the Israeli government to bring back the bill and make it stronger, not to mute it.
This would also be the right thing on an ethical level. Certainly, it would alienate Turkey and elicit further protestations from Erdoğan. But is that so important when compared to the need for a set-in-stone definition of one of the great evils in human history? The lack of such a pronouncement is a disgrace. Fixing this injustice is much more critical than holding on to the tenuous links that Israel has with an increasingly despotic Turkey.
I hope that Netanyahu and his coalition come to understand this soon.
Jews and Armenians share a similar history when it comes to persecution and discrimination. As a member of the Jewish faith, I know what it’s like to experience hatred aimed at my religion and culture. Armenians do too. The directives of Israel’s conscience necessitate the application of righteous behavior. Recognizing the Armenian genocide as what it was — a genocide –would be an appropriate manifestation of that behavior.
I urge the Israeli government to do just that.
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor who has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek.