Israeli MKs to Discuss Recognizing Turkey's Armenian Genocide

Setting a memorial day for the Armenian genocide would mark a first in Israeli history; consideration stokes criticism that Israel is trying to incite Turkey.

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

A Knesset committee Monday will consider setting a memorial day for the Armenian genocide, marking a first in Israeli history and stoking criticism that Israel is trying to incite Turkey.

Though a proposal for such a day was submitted in the Knesset eight months ago, action has been delayed until Monday. The Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, headed by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu), will discuss the issue in the public hearing; Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will take part.

Turkish nationalists chant slogans during a protest against France in wake of its recognition of the Armenian genocide. Istanbul, Dec. 25, 2011Credit: AP

Up to now, proposals for recognizing the Armenian genocide have been considered by closed sessions of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. That committee rejected the proposals a number of times.

Recognition of the Armenian genocide is a sensitive diplomatic issue. Last week, the lower house of France's parliament approved a bill that bans denial of the genocide, which occurred 96 years ago. The law imposes a one-year jail sentence and a 45,000-euro fine.

This step triggered a diplomatic crisis between France and Turkey. Ankara recalled its ambassador, canceled diplomatic, economic and military exchanges with France, and banned the landing of French military planes at its airports and the docking of French ships at its harbors.

"For many years, Israel's government has refused to recognize the genocide for cynical, strategic and economic, reasons, connected to its ties with Turkey," said MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), who has sponsored the call for recognizing the Armenian genocide. "Now, given the state of relations between the countries, I can't rule out the possibility that the Foreign Ministry is exploiting affairs" and trying to goad Turkey.

Gal-On added that "our moral obligation transcends such cynical calculations, and I hope that the Knesset committee will reach a decision in favor of recognizing the genocide, in the Knesset's first public hearing on the matter. The education committee is the right place for examining the topic, which is omitted from school curricula."

Miller denies that there is any link between relations with Turkey and the Knesset hearing. He told Haaretz that the discussion "was scheduled long ago, and the date was changed due to the schedule of the Knesset speaker, who wants to be present. There is no connection between this discussion and the Yisrael Beiteinu party .... This is an educational discussion, and I hope Knesset members won't turn up with the intention of making populist, inflammatory remarks."

Schoolteachers in Israel say there is a guideline banning the teaching of the Armenian genocide. "The official explanation for this ban is that teaching about Armenia would dilute the meaning of the Jewish tragedy in Europe, but it's clear that the real reason involves relations with Turkey," says Michal Vasar, a high school teacher at Sha'ar Henegev.

Read this article in Hebrew.

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