MK fails to block Knesset talks on Armenian genocide

Left, Right agree gov't should recognize Armenian genocide; Foreign Ministry: Official declaration would be 'irresponsible.'

Armenian genocide memorial in Lyon, France 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Robert Pratta)
Armenian genocide memorial in Lyon, France 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Robert Pratta)
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 genocide.
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.”
RELATED:Turkey accuses France of genocide in AlgeriaErdogan wants another apology, this time from Armenia
Amidror stressed 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.
Israel’s 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 meeting.
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 meeting.
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 Ankara.
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.
Gal-On said 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 issue.
“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 actions.
At the same time, Foreign Ministry representatives in the meeting said it would be irresponsible to make any official declarations on the matter.
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.
In 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 price.”
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 Azerbaijan.
He called for the government not to make any official statements, and wait for decisions to be made in an international, academic forum.
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.