Netanyahu blocks Armenian genocide debate to avoid ‘aiding Erdogan’

Foreign Ministry says it advised PM that recognizing massacre could boost support for Turkish strongman in upcoming elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference with science ministers from around the world in Jerusalem on May 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference with science ministers from around the world in Jerusalem on May 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu on Saturday night delayed a ministerial debate of motions to officially recognize the Armenian genocide.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said it had advised that going ahead with the initiative could help Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection campaign.

In a statement, the ministry said that Netanyahu had accepted a recommendation to postpone debating legislation on recognizing the genocide until after the June 24 Turkish elections, “because holding the debate on its original schedule might serve Erdogan in his campaign.”

Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, asked that the topic be taken off the agenda for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which was set to meet on Sunday to review two bills ahead of their Knesset votes.

Recognition of the Armenian genocide is deeply unpopular in Turkey. The ministry’s advice, which came amid a nadir in ties with Turkey over deadly clashes on the Gaza border, indicated that by pushing ahead with the move Israel would generate support for Erdogan on the Turkish streets.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he gives a speech during an electoral meeting presenting candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, on May 29, 2018 in Istanbul. (OZAN KOSE/AFP)

Relations between Israel and Turkey soured dramatically in the aftermath of 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were killed, leading to a diplomatic spat that saw the ambassadors and consuls general of both countries expelled or withdrawn to their respective countries.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.”

In an apparent effort to irritate Erdogan, Knesset members filed bills calling for Israel to recognize the genocide and official mark the massacre each year.

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

MK Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, on Saturday night scorned the government for backing down over the legislation.

“It is time to stop groveling before Erdogan,” Lapid tweeted. “It is time to do the moral and right thing and recognize the genocide of the Armenian people. If the government is afraid to bringing up the law we will bring it up for a vote, as soon as possible. I call on all of the coalition members who notified and clarified that the moment has come to recognize the genocide of the Armenian people to pass the law together with us.”

Last month Turkey said Israel would only harm itself if it recognized the genocide because doing so would undermine the special status of the Holocaust.

“We think that Israel putting the events of 1915 on the same level as the Holocaust is harming itself first and foremost,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara at the time.

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

Knesset lawmakers already voted last month to debate recognition of the genocide in the parliament chamber. The date of the plenum debate was not immediately announced.

Recognition of the Armenian genocide is raised every year in the Knesset, usually in the form of proposed legislation rather than a call for a debate, and has been knocked down by sitting governments annually since 1989.

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

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