Taking aim at Turkey, lawmakers propose recognizing Armenian genocide

Two MKs submit bills calling on Israel to acknowledge massacres carried by Ottoman forces and hold annual memorials

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Armenians marched long distances and were said to have been massacred in Turkey, in 1915.  (AP Photo, File)
Armenians marched long distances and were said to have been massacred in Turkey, in 1915. (AP Photo, File)

Two Israeli lawmakers said Wednesday they would propose bills to officially recognize the Armenian genocide, as relations between Israel and Turkey plunged amid a diplomatic scuffle over deadly clashes at the Gaza border.

Likud party MK Amir Ohana said he would file initial paperwork for a bill calling on Israel to formally recognize as a genocide the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian people by Ottoman forces during World War I. MK Itzik Shmuli, of the opposition Zionist Union faction, said he would propose a bill urging the country to officially mark the massacre each year as well.

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said he would back recognizing the genocide, as did Education Minister Naftali Bennett and senior Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Tuesday.

Israel — along with other countries, including the United States and Germany — has refrained from formally recognizing the Armenian genocide over fears of angering Turkey.

Jerusalem and Ankara on Tuesday expelled each other’s ambassadors and consuls as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exchanged scathing snipes in a public row sparked by the Gaza violence the day before.

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2018. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

Shmuli’s bill calls for the Knesset to officially recognize the genocide and to mark it on a special day each year. The lawmaker also wants Israel to acknowledge the less internationally recognized slaying of some 300,000 Assyrian people, also at the hands of the Ottoman regime, the predecessor to modern Turkey.

“Beyond the fact that many countries already recognize the murder of the Armenian people, there is also the fact that there is no longer any reason to be especially sensitive when dealing with the Turks in light of the inciting comments against Israel by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Shmuli said, according to the Kan national broadcaster.

Katz, a senior minister and member of the ruling Likud party, told Kan that there was nothing preventing recognition of the genocide, also drawing attention to an ongoing Turkish military operation inside Syrian territory against Kurdish communities.

“There is no moral reason to not recognize the Armenian holocaust,” he said. “Erdogan is carrying out a transfer of Kurds and it is appropriate to respond to him. If he returns ambassadors, then we also do it.”

Likud MK Amir Ohana attends a discussion in the Knesset on September 18, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Livni gave her support, telling Kan that “recognition of the Armenian genocide is a moral matter. Erdogan is an extremist and a partner with Hamas.”

Ohana said his bill would call for an annual commemoration of the Armenian genocide.

“It is time to recognize the terrible injustice that was done to the Armenians,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Can it be that the Jewish nation state, after everything we have been through, won’t recognize it?”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 more injured in Monday’s clashes.

The IDF said Tuesday that at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel claims that the Hamas terror group is spurring the violence and using it as cover for attacks.

The protests appeared to be thinning out Tuesday with only some 4,000 said to have joined the border clashes, according to the IDF. That was compared to some 40,000 Palestinians who participated in violent riots along the security fence on Monday.

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on May 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Ankara reacted with fury to the clashes, which came on the same day the United States formally moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in defiance of international criticism.

The flareup between Netanyahu and Erdogan was the latest in a string of altercations to threaten the already-shaky relations between the countries, which were reestablished only recently after being broken off for several years.

In 2016 Israel and Turkey formally ended a five-year dispute over the storming of a Gaza-bound ship by Israeli commandos in which ten Turks were killed.

On January 20, Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in the enclave of Afrin in Syria to root out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) there, which Turkey brands a terrorist group, but which is seen by the United States as a key player in the fight against Islamic State jihadists.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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