Netanyahu Postpones Debate on Recognizing Armenian Genocide

Sources say the prime minister has delayed the vote until after the Turkish election so as not to aid Erdogan's campaign

Mourners at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum in Yerevan, Armenia in 2015.
\ REUTERS

The government has postponed the discussion of three bills to recognize the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey. The bills were scheduled to be debated by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but it is not clear when they will voted on, said sources on the committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the committee’s discussion of the proposed laws until after the Turkish general election scheduled for June 24, said officials. Israeli officials recommended not raising the issue of the Armenian genocide before the elections for parliament and president because it would serve Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his reelection campaign and help him unite Turkey behind his party.   

Last week, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein postponed a debate and vote on recognizing the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey, because a majority of the Knesset majority would not have voted to support the recognition. Two weeks ago, the Knesset approved a request by the left-wing Meretz party to hold a Knesset debate and a vote on the issue.

Israel partially recognizes the Armenian genocide: The Knesset Education Committee has recognized it and debated bills on the issue, and the Knesset has been marking the Armenian genocide every year since 2012, but proposals of the sort are usually blocked because of the special relationship with Azerbaijan, which is involved in an ongoing military conflict with neighboring Armenia, as well as the effect it would have on Israel’s tense relations with Turkey.

Over the past few weeks, Knesset members have been trying to outdo each other in coming up with ways to take revenge on the Turkish government for ordering the Israeli ambassador out of the country and recalling the Turkish ambassador in response to the deaths along the border fence with the Gaza Strip last month, as well as the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

A Likud minister said over the past few days that the decision on recognizing the Armenian genocide must be made in isolation from the present conflict with Turkey. “We must conduct a principled discussion on the question of whether Israel needs to officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Such a step must not be taken as revenge against Erdogan’s statements,” said the minister.

Two weeks ago, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, called for the recognition of the Armenian genocide and of the rights of the Kurdish minority in Syria.

Bennett also announced he had formulated a comprehensive “plan of action” for the Knesset, the government and the public, which he shared on social networks. “I ask you, the public, to cancel your trips to Turkey. Immediately," he wrote. "Take your vacation in the Galilee and the Golan. You also have a role to play,” he added.

In one of many such attempts, in February the Knesset voted down a bill to recognize the Armenian genocide sponsored by MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid). Two weeks, ago two MKs, Amir Ohana (Likud) and Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) submitted a similar bill, one of the three under consideration, and are seeking to push it through in expedited fashion in response to Erdogan’s actions and remarks. “Netanyahu and his ministers roar like lions but fall like flies every time Erdogan threatens,” said Shmuli.

“The day on which the prime minister of the state of the Jewish people agrees to be a collaborator with the denial of the genocide of another people, who were slaughtered in concentration camps and on death marches, this is a black day and a deep moral stain on all of us. What would we have said if the world had refused to recognize the Holocaust because of diplomatic unpleasantness and economic interests? If we become partners in the denial of the tragedies in history we will never succeed in preventing those that may come in the future. I call on the government to set aside political considerations and do the necessary historic justice,” said Shmuli.  

Also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the genocide in question was the systematic killing of an estimated 1,500,000 Armenians by the Ottoman government during and after World War I. Most of those killed were citizens of the Ottoman Empire.