Miller Rivlin Gal-On - Michal Fattal - 27122011
MKs Miller, Rivlin and Gal-On at the Knesset hearing on Monday. Photo by Michal Fattal
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The Knesset's Education Committee staged a historic open hearing on the controversial subject of Turkish mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, on Monday. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who was scheduled to take part in the hearing, did not participate; he was wary that his involvement could cause diplomatic conflicts with Turkey, Armenia or Azerbaijan. Foreign Ministry officials who took part in the discussion warned that recognition of Turkish genocide "could damage Israel-Turkey relations."

Monday's Knesset hearing was held against the backdrop of a serious diplomatic tussle between Turkey and France, sparked by the French parliament's passage of a bill that outlaws the denial of the genocide perpetrated in the Ottoman Empire against Armenians in the years 1915-1923. At the start of the hearing, committee chair MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ) asked that the discussion concentrate on educational and academic issues, and not feature political declarations. MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ), who initiated the discussion, stated that "this is a dramatic moment; the education committee is holding an open, public meeting involving a number of participants. For years Israel always gave priority to its relations with Turkey. That's the main reason why Israel's Knesset did not recognize the genocide of the Armenian people. Unfortunately, relations with Turkey are very tense, and I believe that we have an interest in not causing damage to them. Israel's government should conduct with Turkey relations that are kept separate from the Armenian issue. This [recognition] is a moral and historic obligation. Let's recognize this past atrocity, but not at the expense of future relations with Turkey," Gal-On declared.

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ), another sponsor of the hearing, stated that, "In the past, we were always told that the subject couldn't be dealt with because of Israel's good relationship with Turkey. Now we are told that the subject can't be discussed because of worsened relations with Turkey. You can't erase a chapter from history. You can't allow utilitarian considerations to stop you from dealing with this topic. I hope that we can call on the government of Israel to observe the memorial day for the Armenian people, and incorporate this subject in school curricula."

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin stated during the hearing: "This subject is being brought up by the Knesset not because something has happened between Israel and Turkey, and not because we are trying to exploit a diplomatic situation to settle accounts. I started serving in the Knesset in 1988, and shortly thereafter we raised the issue of the memorial day for the Armenian people. We avoided discussion of the matter in terms of a 'holocaust.' But as human beings, as Jews and as non-Jewish citizens of the state, we have to bring up this topic, and raise the questions connected to it, because it is our duty to prevent denial of disasters. We stand before countries of the world and declare that Holocaust denial is something which cannot be condoned. We have come to discuss a moral issue, not a diplomatic one."