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Israel Government Officially Calls on Knesset to Recognize the Armenian Genocide
Prepared by Israel W. Charny
The GPN report describes many of the nuances of the deliberations that you will not find in conventional news reports, presents an “Explanation and Analysis,” as well as a section of direct quotations of many of the speakers. The GPN report concludes: “In spite of the clear risks of being very wrong, GPN’s editor-reporter now predicts that the bill to recognize the Armenian Genocide will go the full route and will be approved by the Israeli Knesset.”
In an historic session of the Israeli Knesset, a wide ranging spectrum of members of the Knesset, from 7 different political parties, overwhelmingly endorsed recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The session was led firmly and inspiringly by the Chair of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin , who himself spoke with profound feeling of both a Jewish and an Israeli imperative to extend a long overdue recognition. The issue is a moral one, he emphasized over and over again.
“We must make our voices heard when other nations are targeted for destruction,” Rivlin stated. “Those who drafted the Final Solution for the Jews figured the world would be silent as they were when the Armenians were murdered. The Knesset cannot ignore this episode that is factual. We cannot forgive nations who ignore our disaster and we cannot ignore the disaster of other,” the Knesset Speaker added.
Although several speakers also reconstructed briefly familiar parts of the traditional Israeli rhetoric of past years of realpolitik — e.g., a chorus line that the government of Turkey in our time is not the Ottoman Empire that perpetrated the genocide — the old excuses were as if album memories of the language that prevailed in the past to explain and justify Israel’s failure, and in all cases but one soon gave way to clear-cut affirmations of the validity of the Armenian Genocide and support for its recognition by the current government of Israel.
This reporter had to hold his breath during the beginning of the remarks by the official spokesman of the government before it became clear how positive the official position had become for Israel to recognize the Armenian Genocide at long last.
There was only one notable effort at a counter-proposal by a member of the Knesset, Robert Tiviaev, who made a disingenuous effort to call for a commission of historians to research ‘what really happened,’ and he pledged that if the commission then concluded that there had been a genocide, “I will be the first to call for recognition.” Knesset Chair Rivlin made short shrift of the speaker and ruled that there was no point in generating a formal counter proposal and voting on it because it was obvious from all the earlier speakers that an overwhelming majority of the Knesset adamantly confirmed the historical authenticity of the Armenian Genocide.
Rivlin also concluded there was no point in calling for a vote on the resolution to recognize the genocide since the Knesset already had voted last year, unanimously, in favor of recognition. It was on the basis of that vote that the measure had been referred to the Knesset’s Education Committee that held a several hour session in December 2011. (See the GPN article, “DIRECT QUOTATIONS FROM ISRAELI KNESSET HEARING, DEC 26 2011, ON RECOGNIZING THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE that was issued as a Special Bulletin by GPN and then incorporated in Issue 8 (http://www.genocidepreventionnow.org/Home/GPNISSUES/GPNBulletinISRAELIKNESSETSpecialSection8.aspx).
Knesset Chair Rivlin also said that today’s session was a confirmation and extension of the original full Knesset resolution to recognize the genocide, and he then added forcefully that he now expected a continuation of deliberations in the Education Committee and a vote on the resolution.
The government was officially represented at the hearing by MK Gilad Erdan, a member of the National Union Party and currently Minister of Environmental Affairs, who is described by some press as a close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was Erdan’s role to present the government’s position (that will be described shortly) and to answer officially on behalf of the government proposed parliamentary motion not to recognize the genocide.
Erdan said clearly that the government had decided to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and even used what is normally the code word ‘holocaust’ in his remarks to describe what was done to the Armenian people. “I think it is definitely fitting that the Israeli government formally recognize the holocaust perpetrated against the Armenian people,” Erdan, Israel’s environmental affairs minister said.
For this reporter, Erdan’s remarks also reflected the struggles of the long-since denialist Israeli government that is now coming around dramatically in a welcome move to recognize the Armenian Genocide. At first, Erdan made at least one totally inaccurate remark in defense of the State of Israel when he said, “The State of Israel has never denied the [Armenian Genocide]. On the contrary, we deplore the genocide.” Erdan also temporized briefly about the meaning of the word ‘genocide’ when he noted that, “Not everyone uses the same dictionary when they refer to ‘genocide’…” Yet in the end – though this reporter thought somewhat nervously and hurriedly – Erdan announced unambiguously that he was conveying the government’s official position. First of all, he said on behalf of the government that, “One must support full open discussion of the issue.” He also went on to refer to a deeper meaning of the Armenian Genocide for mankind and to link the meaning of the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust of the Jewish people: “The government notes that mankind has not learned the full meanings of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust.” And finally Erdan announced the Israeli government calls for formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide which, as noted earlier, Erdan now characterized with the word ‘holocaust:’
GPN Explanation and Analysis
Unlike the procedure in the US Congress, the Israel legislative sequence calls first for a vote in the plenum, and given a positive vote then the proposed resolution is referred for a hearing in one of the Knesset committees. Now, given a further positive vote in the committee, the measure returns once again to the plenum for three readings and a vote on each reading. At the successful conclusion of this process, the resolution becomes a legal decision of the Knesset.
In the case of the bill to recognize the Armenian Genocide, it is known that if the government maneuvers to send the bill to the secretive Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security, the bill will most likely be killed – and no information on who said what and ‘who done it’ may ever be forthcoming. When the present resolution was sent last Fall to the Education Committee, whose hearings are public, it was a major step toward a possible recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The December hearing in the Education Committee was widely hailed in Israel as the first-ever extended consideration of the genocide in Israel’s legislature.
However – a very big however – as reported by GPN at the time, after several hours of a rich and quite moving session, the Chair of the Education Committee at the time, Alex Miller, a member of Knesset for the Yisrael Beitenu Party that is headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (the Foreign Ministry continued in its traditional opposition to recognize the genocide) as if broke the spell of the session that overall would clearly have produced a vote for recognition, and announced preemptively that the session was over. Bang! Miller then promised that there would be a continuation session in the future, but in fact has never made a move to schedule such a session, and GPN has learned privately over these months from the leaders of the Armenian community in Israel that Miller has said that he refuses to convene such a session.
It now remains to be seen whether the government will act on its newly announced support of the recognition by working to have the Knesset send the measure once again to the Education Committee for a continuation of the hearing – there will be a new Chair of the Education Committee in the coming weeks.
What is clear is that Knesset Chair Reuven Rivlin will do everything in his power in the behind-the-scene decision-making process to have the bill referred back to the Education Committee, but we do not know how to evaluate the range of his influence.
If the government arranges for the bill to go to the secretive committee where it is likely to be killed or in any other way stops the unfolding of the full process, we will know that the statement made by the government’s spokesman on June 12 was still another maneuver in the history of Israeli realpolitik – notwithstanding the fact the even this statement itself represents a major precedent in the tortured process that has taken place in Israel over so many years.
One puzzle for this reporter in the day following the hearing is that so much of the press in Israel and in the U.S. too failed to report loudly and clearly what for us is the very big news – and therefore GPN’s headline. The Government of Israel did state officially that it supports recognition. Wow. As I reviewed press today, I discovered to my amazement that most missed the point. Haaretz in Hebrew didn’t even report the story of the hearing. The English edition of Haaretz this morning featured the hearing as its lead Page One story but still didn’t convey the main point of the victory. Neither did the Jerusalem Post or the Los Angeles Times in their fairly full stories. One minor new service in israel, Arutz Sheva, did publish a small statement that the Minister Erdan “spoke for the government…” and quoted him saying in the first person (which could be one source of the confusion that has been showing up as to who he represented), “I believe it would be appropriate for the government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.” In Istanbul, the newspaper Today’s Zaman got it more correctly than some of the major Israeli papers and quoted the minister basically correctly, BUT added that he said Israel’s government had not changed its policy, and in general erred very badly in saying the hearing was initiated in response to this minister’s remark rather than that the minister came as the official government representative to the hearing initiated by the Knesset. The one source we have found so far that got it really right was the Chicago Tribune which clearly credited Erdan as speaking for the government.
Why so much clouding of information? At the moment GPN’s analysis is that it’s a whopper of a correction for Israel to make after so many years and its hard to believe. As we reported, even the minister seemed nervously unsure!
In spite of the clear risks of being very wrong, GPN’s editor-reporter now predicts that this bill to recognize the Armenian Genocide will go the full route and will be approved by the Israeli Knesset.