In a sign the government still hopes to salvage ties with Turkey, National
Security Council head Yaakov Amidror tried unsuccessfully Monday to stop the
Knesset Education Committee from discussing whether the mass killings of
Armenians by Turks over a century ago should be recognized as
Amidror, speaking Monday night to a gathering of the heads of
Israel’s diplomatic missions abroad, confirmed he tried to convince the
committee not to discuss the issue, saying this is the time to try and “reduce
tensions with Turkey, not pour more oil on the fire.”
Turkey accuses France of genocide in Algeria
Erdogan wants another apology, this time from Armenia
the importance of a relationship with Turkey if possible, though he expressed
skepticism – because of internal changes inside Turkey – of returning to the
warmth of the relationship of five or 10 years ago. Nevertheless, he said Israel
needed to continue trying to see whether it wasn’t possible to create a
“positive trajectory” in the relationship.
Amidror’s comments came even
as Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza for the first time since 2007
for a tour of six Arab and Islamic countries, including Turkey.
ties with Turkey hit rock-bottom in August, when Ankara expelled Israel’s
ambassador after the United Nations published a report on the 2010 flotilla
incident that justified Israel’s sea blockade over the Gaza Strip. Israel at the
time formally made clear to Turkey that it would not apologize for the Mavi
Marmara incident during which nine Turks were killed trying to break the naval
blockade of Gaza.
Government sources said there are ongoing contacts with
the Turks to try and resolve the crisis and re-establish normal ties, something
Amidror was concerned could be hindered by the Knesset
Nevertheless, the Knesset committee discussion not only took
place, but MKs from all sides of the political spectrum called for the
government to officially recognize the Armenian genocide. This was the first
time the highly contentious issue was discussed in an open Knesset
The meeting was initiated after MK Arye Eldad (National Union)
proposed a bill to mark the Armenian genocide annually, which was then turned into a motion for the agenda after Eldad
realized the coalition would not allow the legislation to pass. The meeting also
addressed a similar motion to the agenda by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), making
Armenian genocide one of the few topics agreed upon by the Knesset factions
farthest to the political Left and Right.
The discussion took place a
week after France’s lower house of parliament moved to criminalize
Armenian-genocide denial, leading to a diplomatic crisis
between Paris and
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said those who fight Holocaust
denial must not ignore the tragedies of other nations, and it is a moral
imperative that Israel remember the Armenian genocide.
Rivlin said he
made a motion to the agenda on the matter in 1989, but until Monday, it was not
discussed openly in the Knesset, due to political and diplomatic reasons. He
said the issue was moved from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,
where it was discussed behind closed doors, to the Education Committee, with the
press present, so that “morals and values” can be discussed.
the meeting is an “exciting moment,” bringing to fruition the efforts of many
former and current Meretz MKs over the years.
She called for government
ministries to stop using the Armenian genocide as a tool in Israeli foreign
policy. Although Gal-On said Israel must not allow “tense” relations with Turkey
to deteriorate, she added that relations with Turkey should be separate from
“This is the first time we can really discuss this and not
sweep it under the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s rug: A
million-and-a-half Armenians were murdered in the beginning of World War I,”
Eldad said. “Who remembers them today? We must talk about it, so no one in the
world thinks [genocide] can be committed again.”
Eldad accused the
government of hypocrisy, saying that at first, the matter wasn’t publicly
addressed because relations with Turkey were strong, and now the same policy
stands for the opposite reason.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud)
said he is embarrassed the Knesset has yet to fulfill its “basic responsibility”
in recognizing the Armenian genocide.
He said “a wall has been broken” in
that the Education Committee discussion was taking place openly, but that
progress still needs to be made.
Elkin also mentioned that in 1939,
Hitler cited the fact that Europe ignored the Armenian genocide to justify his
At the same time, Foreign Ministry representatives in the
meeting said it would be irresponsible to make any official declarations on the
The ministry never denied the Armenian genocide, the
representatives explained, but the issue has become political, and Israel
prefers not to be involved, especially because Turkey and Armenia have been
holding an open dialogue on the facts and opinions surrounding it.
addition, only 21 countries have officially recognized the Armenian genocide,
according to the Foreign Ministry, and it would be unfair to declare all those
who haven’t immoral.
“We can’t disconnect ourselves from reality. The
Islamic world is getting more and more extreme,” MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima)
said, echoing the Foreign Ministry’s stance. “We have to improve our
relationship with Turkey; it’s a matter of survival, even if it has a painful
Schneller suggested the Knesset declare that according to human
and Jewish morality, genocide is unacceptable no matter where it takes place, be
it Armenia, Rwanda or Cambodia.
He added that specific discussion of the
Armenian genocide would be irresponsible.
In addition, two
representatives of the International Association Israel-Azerbaijan (AZIZ),
denied genocide took place, saying Armenians took the side of Turkey’s enemies
and were a “fifth column” in Turkey.
In addition, AZIZ spokesman Arye Gut
said thousands of Azerbaijanis were killed in war with Armenia, and that Armenia
occupies Azerbaijan’s land.
The two countries fought a war following
World War I, and another war from 1988-1994.
Gut told the committee to
keep in mind that Turkey helped Jews after the Spanish Inquisition and during
the Holocaust, and there are only 300 Jews in Armenia, while 30,000 live in
He called for the government not to make any official
statements, and wait for decisions to be made in an international, academic
No vote took place at the end of the meeting, and Knesset
Education Committee chairman Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) said more open
discussions of the Armenian genocide will take place.