Knesset vote on recognizing Armenian genocide withdrawn

With no coalition support, opposition MK cancels motion to officially acknowledge slaughter of 1.5 million during WWI

In this undated photo, members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset, demanding that the State of Israel recognize the Armenian genocide. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
In this undated photo, members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset, demanding that the State of Israel recognize the Armenian genocide. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Knesset vote scheduled for Tuesday on recognizing the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide has been canceled due to a lack of government support, the opposition lawmaker behind the initiative said.

Last month the Knesset approved the motion, penned by Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party, to hold a plenary debate and vote on “recognizing the Armenian genocide.”

Turkey had expressed its opposition, and Zandberg, in an effort to ensure the support of the governing coalition for her motion, agreed to postpone the vote until after Sunday’s Turkish elections.

On Monday, it became clear that the coalition was still opposed to Zandberg’s initiative, even after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection.

“Despite the promises and delays and despite the Turkish elections being behind us, the government and coalition are refusing to recognize the Armenian genocide,” Zandberg said on Twitter late Monday.

“I am therefore forced to cancel the vote,” she said.

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Armenians have long sought international recognition of the 1915-1917 killings by the Ottoman Empire, which reportedly left some 1.5 million of their people dead, as a genocide. Turkey — the Ottoman Empire’s successor state — strongly rejects the allegation that the massacres, imprisonment and forced deportation of Armenians from 1915 amounted to a genocide.

Israel’s refusal thus far to formally recognize the Armenian slaughter as genocide is based on geopolitical and strategic considerations, primary among them its relations with Turkey.

Zandberg on Tuesday said that recognizing the Ottoman massacres as genocide was a “matter of basic historical justice, which the Jewish state should have been the first to recognize” in light of the Holocaust.

The Foreign Ministry would not comment on Zandberg’s initiative since it did not involve legislation. It did, however, recommend the government postpone a vote on a bill to recognize the Armenian genocide earlier this month, over concern its advancement could benefit Erdogan ahead of the June 24 elections there.

Zandberg’s motion would not have been considered an Israeli government move, but could have worsened already-tense ties with Turkey, which has harshly criticized Israel over deadly clashes on the Gaza border in recent months.

Every year since 1989, Meretz has sought recognition of the century-old mass killings of Armenians by their Ottoman rulers as a genocide, but each year the initiative has been knocked down by sitting governments because of Israel’s diplomatic ties with Turkey.

An Armenian demonstrator holds up a historic photograph of the Armenian genocide during a demonstration in Jerusalem, April 24, 2015 photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90

The United States has similarly avoided recognition of the mass killings over fears of angering Turkey.

The latest striking down of the initiative comes amid a sharp increase in tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara during the recent clashes on the Israel-Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians were killed, leading to a diplomatic spat that saw the ambassadors and consuls general of both countries expelled or withdrawn to their respective countries.

Erdogan also engaged in a bitter Twitter exchange with Netanyahu, whom he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of supporting Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”

Last month, Deputy Diplomacy Minister Michael Oren described the current rift with Turkey as the “most severe” since Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation agreement in June 2016, upgrading their diplomatic relationship after years of frosty ties worsened by a fatal melee between Turkish activists and IDF soldiers aboard a Gaza-bound ship in 2010.

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