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Israel grapples with whether to recognize Armenian Genocide

Nachman Shai of Israel’s Zionist Union Party says “it’s time for Israel to to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, The Associated Press reports.

Shai will travel to Armenia on April 24 with a group of lawmakers to participate in the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The delegation is under strict instructions to refer to the killings as a “national tragedy” rather than “genocide”

“In foreign policy, there are interests and there are values,” he told The Associated Press. “In this case I think values should trump interests. As Jews, we must recognize it.”

Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, a top official at the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate, said he was pleased Israel was sending a delegation to the ceremony but said it should go further.

“We, the Armenians and the Jewish people, have suffered the same fate, and the Armenian genocide has served as a predecessor to the Jewish Holocaust,” said Shirvanian, himself a descendent of survivors. “So Israel should have been actually one of the first countries to support and recognize the Armenian genocide.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel’s official position hasn’t changed and refused to elaborate when pressed to explain why not.

“We are extremely sensitive and sympathetic to the terrible tragedy of the Armenians during the First World War,” he said. “One thing is the historic debate over how to label the tragedy and the other is the recognition that something terrible happened to the Armenian people, and that is much more important.”

Only two dozen, mostly Western, countries have officially recognized the genocide, including Canada, France, Italy and Argentina. Isaac Lubelsky, who teaches genocide studies at the Open University in Tel Aviv, said the United States and Israel were both “glaringly absent” from the list.

“The time has come to listen to the feelings and the conscience of the countries of the enlightened world and to recognize, without fear, the Armenian genocide,” he wrote in the Maariv daily.

A group of prominent Israeli academics, artists and former generals and politicians recently signed a petition calling on Israel to follow the pope’s lead and recognize the genocide.

“As the children of a people that has known a Holocaust and which fights against its denial, it behooves us to show special sensitivity to the disaster of another people,” the petition reads.

Yossi Sarid, a former leader of the dovish Meretz party and an outspoken critic of what he called Israel’s “cynical” stance, was even more blunt. As education minister in 2000, he gave a landmark speech to an Armenian church in Jerusalem recognizing their genocide, and as a result became persona non grata in Turkey.

But he says the United States, not Turkey, is standing in the way of Israeli recognition.

“Ultimately, we are a satellite state of the United States. When America finally decides to recognize it I suppose we will as well,” he told the AP.

But he said Israel should have led the way. The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry, and Israel has been at the forefront of international efforts to combat its denial.

“We are after all the ‘experts’ on genocide, so it is doubly important,” he said. “But in a way, we too are Holocaust deniers, so long as it isn’t our Holocaust.”


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