As Turkey Tensions Rise, Israeli Lawmakers Push to Recognize Armenian Genocide as Diplomatic Revenge

Long stalled due to the sensitivity of Israeli-Turkish relations, politicians aim to put Erdogan in his place

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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People lay flowers at a memorial to Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks, in Yerevan, Armenia, April 24, 2015.
People lay flowers at a memorial to Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks, in Yerevan, Armenia, April 24, 2015.Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Knesset members over the past couple of days 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 this week in response to the Gaza killings on Monday.

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There were proposals to cancel joint meetings with senior Turkish officials, calls for Israelis to cancel vacations in Turkey and calls for Israel to recognize the rights of the Kurdish minority in Syria. One of the most prominent proposals likely to be advanced is the passage of legislation recognizing the genocide of the Armenians under the Ottomans in the early 20th century. Turkey has always vehemently denied the killings amounted to genocide.

Since 2012 the Knesset has marked the Armenian genocide but efforts to pass a law setting an official memorial day for it have gone nowhere. Knesset observers believe that a majority of MKs actually support such a law, but because of the sensitive nature of Israeli-Turkish relations such a law has been blocked.

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In February, for example, the Knesset voted down a bill on the matter initiated by MK Yair Lapid. But on Wednesday two MKs, Amir Ohana (Likud) and Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) submitted a similar bill and are seeking to push it through in expedited fashion in response to the actions and remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“This historical injustice should have been recognized long ago,” said Shmuli. “Petty politics with the Turks have proven ineffective. We certainly won’t be preached to by the barbaric sultan, whose country is responsible for enormous war crimes and who himself is still bombing innocent Kurds.” Ohana added, “Once the Kurd-murderer from Ankara chose to side with the murderous Hamas regime and slander Israel Defense Forces soldiers, who defend all of us, and to expel and humiliate Israeli diplomats in Turkey, the time has come to recognize [the Armenian genocide] not just historically but politically.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, announced that 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, calling for recognition of the Armenian genocide and of the rights of the Kurdish minority in Syria.

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Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen ordered ministry staffers to immediately cancel a workshop that was meant to take place in two weeks on economic ties with Turkey. He also ordered the ministry official responsible for foreign trade to work to reduce Israel’s trade deficit with Turkey. “We must end the Turkish hypocrisy, which on the one hand finances terror organizations like Hamas and works against Israel in the diplomatic arena while on the other hand wants to benefit from Israeli knowledge, products and innovation,” Cohen said.

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay had opposed the reconciliation agreement that was signed with Turkey two years ago, in which Israel paid compensation to families of the Turkish victims of a deadly Israeli army raid in 2010 on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was part of a flotilla seeking to break the Gaza blockade. Gabbay expressed support for recognizing the Armenian genocide, telling Kan Reshet Bet radio that it should have been done long ago.

“This is a moral issue, not a political one,” Gabbay said. “In a situation in which our relations are such that they make every possible anti-Semitic allegation against us, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t say the truth about what they do. But before the Armenians, there are the Kurds.”

Lapid, who two years ago had supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to sign the reconciliation agreement, tweeted a contradictory message on Tuesday. “The reconciliation agreement that was signed was a mistake. You don’t reconcile with anti-Semites like Erdogan," he wrote. "The time has come for the government to say what has been clear for a long time – Erdogan is part of the Islamic terror axis.”

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel added, “The lessons of Israel’s capitulation in the Marmara case requires a clear and determined message to the Turks – our relations will be based solely on mutual respect and shared interests.”

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni said: “We must return Erdogan to the point of choosing whether to be part of the international community or the Hamas camp. We must use the leverage we have over Turkey, through the Americans.”

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