By Yair Auron
On May 31, a few days before the lower house of the German Bundestag recognized the murder of the Armenian people – an act that reverberated worldwide – there was supposed to be a discussion of the subject in the Knesset. However, it was postponed under pressure from the Foreign Ministry (which is headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). The discussion is due to take place in the Knesset on Wednesday.
This is a discussion of great importance for the battle that has been waged for years for Israeli recognition of the Armenian genocide. In the past year I hoped that if not the Israeli government, at least the Knesset would finally recognize it. But apparently there is very little chance of that, in light of the rapprochement agreement signed with Turkey. After all, who would endanger the agreement because of a negligible thing like whether or not there was a genocide of another nation.
There’s no chance that the Israeli government will recognize the Armenian genocide, but during the course of the year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the murder of the Armenian people, there was nevertheless a hope that perhaps the Knesset would do so. But apparently that hope is also evaporating.President Reuven Rivlin has in the past expressed profound identification with the suffering of the Armenians. When he served as Knesset speaker he even said that Israel should recognize the Armenian genocide. It’s a shame that he has refrained from repeating that since being elected president, saying only “I haven’t changed my mind.”
In a discussion in the Knesset Education Committee in July 2015, in which Edelstein participated, all the speakers from the coalition and the opposition supported recognition. Only a representative of the Foreign Ministry had reservations, claiming that the concept of “genocide” has become politicized, and therefore Israel should not use it. Imagine if any European government were to claim that the “Holocaust” is a political concept, and therefore their government should not use it.
At the conclusion of the discussion the Education Committee called on the Knesset to recognize the genocide and on the Education Ministry to teach about it, but nothing happened. The annual discussion to take place in the coming days is the moment of truth: The thawing of relations with Turkey and the weapons deals between the governments of Israel and Azerbaijan, worth billions of dollars – weapons designated for clashes with the Armenians – are not glad tidings for the chances of recognition.
Even if people and institutions in Israel won’t be happy to hear these words, they must be said: Israel denies the Armenian genocide. We are one of the only democratic countries in the world, if not the only one, to do so, and to support Turkey’s stubborn policy of denial. The United States neither recognizes nor denies the genocide. When we deny the Armenian genocide, we are desecrating the memory of its victims. In my opinion, in so doing we are also desecrating the memory and the victims of the Holocaust.
Because of this last sentence, which I refused to omit, the administration of Yad Vashem rejected a scientific article that I was invited to write for the institution’s newsletter, Teaching the Legacy. But I will continue to say and to write that sentence until the State of Israel, if only via the Knesset, recognizes the Armenian genocide.
Today it’s already known and has been proven: When we deny a genocide that took place in the past, we are preparing the ground for a future genocide.
The discussion in the Knesset should arouse great interest in the world, and of course among the Armenians in Armenia and in the Diaspora, and hopefully here too. Those who are fighting for recognition are requesting “a vote now.” Transferring the discussion to the committee was an important step for years, but it has become a cynical political means to conceal the truth. We continue to deny.
Israeli recognition (which is not anticipated, to my regret) would probably lead to recognition of the Armenian genocide by the entire world. If Israel recognizes it, U.S. President Barack Obama won’t be able to continue to remain on the sidelines either. What is true of genocide is also true of the battle against its denial: Anyone who is not on the side of the victims is on the side of the deniers.
Prof. Auron is a genocide scholar who has been working for years for recognition by Israel and the world of the Armenian genocide.