Israeli Lawmaker Drops Bill Recognizing Armenian Genocide

Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg withdrew the legislation after the governing coalition and Foreign Ministry demanded to replace the term ‘genocide’ with ‘tragedy’ or ‘horrors’

Jonathan Lis
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Zandberg in the Knesest, 2017
Zandberg in the Knesest, 2017Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis

A legislation that would have provided an Israeli recognition of the genocide of the Armenian people during World War I was pulled on Tuesday. 

Meretz party leader, who sponsored the bill, has decided to withdraw the legislation after facing demands that the term "genocide" be dropped from the text.

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Zandberg decided to withdraw consideration of the bill, which was scheduled for debate in the Knesset on Tuesday, after the government coalition and the Foreign Ministry demanded that the language of the bill be moderated and the term “genocide” dropped. Instead it was proposed that the term “tragedy” or “horrors” experienced by the Armenian people be used. Zandberg insisted on shelving the bill instead.

A Knesset vote on the legislation would have been largely symbolic. Passage would have not only involved recognition by the Knesset that Armenians had been victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, but recognition by the Israeli government as well.

Such a move would have negative implications on Israel’s relations with Turkey, a republic established after World War I following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire on a portion of the empire’s former territory. Turkey denies that Armenians were subject to genocide.  

Knesset sources said on Monday that the coalition had begun rounding up a majority to defeat Zandberg’s bill, even though it was thought that if Knesset members were allowed to vote as they choose, in the absence of party discipline, the measure would have passed.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has been a prominent proponent of recognizing the genocide of the Armenians, had proposed a softened version of Zandberg’s bill and secured the support of all of the parties in the government coalition other than Yisrael Beinteinu for it.

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“With a heavy heart, I am forced to pull the bill that I had been due to present recognizing the Armenian genocide,” Zandberg said. “Unfortunately, despite the promises and excuses calling for postponing the vote until after the election in Turkey [last Sunday], now too, the coalition is refusing to support a bill recognizing the Armenian genocide.” Saying that a bill that failed to recognize the genocide was worse than no bill at all, she said she would withdraw it until “another time.” Recognition of the genocide, she said, involved a “historical justice unconnected to any politics,” she said.

Following a crisis in Israel-Turkey relations in May over Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters on Gaza’s border with Israel, several Knesset members attempted to advance official Israeli recognition of the Armenian genocide.