Issue 10, Spring 2012
G P N   O R I G I N A L

This is the first time a government of Israel has endorsed recognition

An in-depth report and analysis of the political process
by GPN
Prepared by Israel W. Charny

Israel's Knesset, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, June 12, 2012

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 the 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 the code word 'holocaust' that is not normally allowed 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 news 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 believeAs 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.

Statements by Various Speakers at the Knesset Hearing on the Armenian Genocide June 12, 2012

A note to GPN readers: GPN's reporter was not actually present at the Knesset for this session, although I had been invited to attend. My delightful reason for not being present was that I traveled to the Tel Aviv area to attend a dance concert that evening in which a wonderful 10 year old granddaughter was performing (she and all the other children were beautiful).  However, I was able to see the entire session late afternoon live on television and to take notes using the advantage of the big screen and the probing television cameras perhaps more effectively than would have been the case if I were actually in the Knesset.

Knesset Chairperson Reuven Rivlin -  Rivlin spoke sensitively and very much in a moral voice. Among his other remarks, he quoted Avshalom Feinberg, who as noted in the GPN report of December 2011 session was a member of Nili which was a Jewish spy group in Turkey in WWI, several of whose members, including Feinberg, stumbled into being full blown eye-witnesses of the Armenian Genocide. Nili then played an important and dangerous role for the Jewish community living in Turkish-ruled Palestine as they warned the Yishuv [Jewish community] that the same fate was heading toward the Jews in Palestine. (One famous woman in this group, Sara Ahronson, was caught and hung by the Turks in Palestine). In today's Knesset session Rivlin quoted Feinberg thus: "I ask myself if we are living in our era in 1915 or whether we really are living in the days of Titus [the Roman Emperor who destroyed the Temple] and Nebuchadnezzar [Persian ruler who exiled the Jews 6th century BCE]."  Rivlin concluded: "The facts about the massacres of the Armenians were clear and unquestionable." 

Referring to the Holocaust some 25 years later, Rivlin noted that after the Armenian Genocide, "We were the next in line to be victims of genocide.  Hitler believed that the world would be silent just as it was silent in response to the killings of the Armenians."  

Repeatedly Rivlin warned against turning the subject of recognition of the Armenian Genocide into a political issue: "It is forbidden to turn this subject into a political subject [in the 'American language' this would be called 'into a political football'].  It is forbidden for us to turn our backs on the tragedies of other nations.  This is our responsibility."

MK Zahava Gal-On, Chairperson of the liberal party Meretz, co-sponsor of the resolution - Zahava Gal-On was one of the two authors (together with Arieh Eldad from the National Union Party) of the resolutions, continuing a very proud tradition of her party and its past leaders such as MK's Yair Tzaban, Yossi Beilin (who became an Assistant Foreign Minister and made an official statement of the Armenian Genocide that drove the government bananas), Yossi Sarid (who became a Minister of Education, and like Beilin drove the government into denial of his significance when he too firmly recognized the Armenian Genocide), and Haim Oron (whom we have pointed out in the past is the brother of Professor Yair Auron, Associate Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, who is braving the development of an unprecedented program of collegiate education about genocide and has published the first series of textbooks on genocide in Hebrew at the Open University in Israel).

Gal-On noted that the Armenian Genocide has already been recognized by 27 nations in the world.  "Once again the State of Israel is making a cynical political use of the subject," she said. Gal-On also made the connection between denials of the Armenian Genocide and denials of the Holocaust. "Denial of the Armenian Genocide supports denials of the Holocaust," she emphasized.

MK Arieh Eldad, National Union Party, co-sponsor of the resolution: Eldad's cited additional members of the Nili spy group, and observed that historians feel that their experiences in eyewitnessing the Armenian Genocide played a major role in strengthening the Nili group's anticipations of serious dangers to the Jewish community from the ruling Turks.  Eldad read a report by a Turkish officer about how the Turks forced Armenians into a school and burned them alive.  He also cited the outcome of a forced march of Armenians into the desert who numbered at the outset 170,000 of whom "only 180 survived this Armenian death march."  Eldad continued with descriptions of other events including the killing of Armenians in Trebizond with chlorine gas and concluded: "It seems to me that this was a rehearsal of what was going to take place 25 years later."  Eldad concluded: "Turkey must recognize the Armenian Genocide."

MK Dov Khenin, Hadash Party:  Khenin continued the remarks of many others emphasizing that the issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide is "both an historical and moral issue."  He went on eloquently to recognize that "the Armenian Genocide was committed no less than by human beings": The genocide of the Armenians is a warning signal to all of us human beings that we should not sink to the dark places of our humanness."  

Khenin also recalled the famous report by the American news correspondent, Louis Lochner, who was attached to the Berlin bureau of the Associated Press as WWII approached, and later in 1939 won a Pulitzer Prize for his reports of the Nazi invasion of Poland, who reported Hitler's cynical inspirational statement to his generals, "Who remembers the Armenians?"  Khenin now continued, as if in reply to Hitler: "WE remember the Armenians.  We MUST remember the Armenians.  This is not something that belongs to history alone.  It is reality.  It [the genocide] happened.  It is something that is continuing to happen to all of us."  

MK Daniel Ben-Simon, Labor Party (and a former correspondent of Haaretz): Ben-Simon compared the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide to the perpetrators of many other genocides that have since followed, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao tse Tung, and the leaders of Cambodia [Pol Pot].    He spoke further about the fact that victim peoples must retain their memory of the traumatic tragedies they have endured, and noted that "Turkey invests enormous energies to attempt to subvert knowledge and deliberations of the murders of the Armenians.  One must give free history a free reign to 'do its thing' and not hide from history.  Ben-Simon concluded, "For a people to do self-reckoning [and take responsibility for the commission of genocidal acts] is not an act of weakness but an act of strength."  

MK Nino Abesadze, Kadima Party:  Abesadze noted that now it is only three years before we reach the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide tragedy.  "We Jews must understand and feel for the other.  Our attitude cannot be dependent on any political consideration.  It is precisely because we have been a victim people we do not dare fail to identify with another victim people.  We must be an example of tolerance and respect for others."

Nissim Zeev, Shas Party (and by profession a Rabbi): For this reporter one unusual and welcome development in this session of the Knesset was that one of the speakers who ended up very much supporting recognition of the genocide comes from a major religious party - something we at GPN do not remember in any previous Knesset deliberations about the genocide. 

Not surprisingly the same speaker, Nissim Zeev from the Shas party, by profession a Rabbi, actually began his remarks with a series of traditional denialist statements such as, "This is a massacre that is controversial." Zeev also gave an explanation at least of part of the genocide as being the Turkish response to Armenian support of Russia in WWI -- an argument that is a favorite ploy of Turkish denial propaganda and completely ignores the unfolding of the Armenian Genocide already from the end of the preceding century where 200,000 Armenians were slaughtered. Zeev also could not help himself but make an effort to differentiate between Shoah and genocide so that the Shoah - referring of course to the Holocaust of the Jewish people - remained a more severe crime than as if a more simple genocide.  Nonetheless, Zeev then proceeded with flying colors to describe Turkey's sweeping campaign of denial of the massacre of the Armenians, Turkey's punishments of people who speak of the Armenian Genocide as criminals, and concluded more than powerfully: "We cannot close our eyes to such a terrible mass murder - just as mass murder is taking place in Syria today."  Finally, Zeev used the word genocideWe must do everything to stop such genocides no matter what sensitive political issues are involved."
MK Zeev Elkin, Likud Party, and Chair of the Likud Caucus in the Knesset:  "We are one of the last nations in the world that has still not recognized the Armenian Genocide.  It is our moral responsibility that we have still not met.  There has even been a battle for many years about the very discussion of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset.  I pray that we will now complete this simple and trivial process. " 

Elkin, a significant and wizened political leader, now expressed the specific hope that the Knesset's Education Committee will now go ahead to complete the process. He emphasized that practical political considerations are not relevant.  "Practical realpolitik considerations don't work. The State of Israel in particular should not conduct itself on this basis."

Elkin observed:
"Israel frequently claims that the Jewish people has earned a special moral confirmation of the validity of its existence after the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust, and now we cannot turn our backs on another people.  If only because of Hitler's statement, 'Who remembers the Armenians?', Israel is obligated to remember!"

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Executive Director: Prof. Israel W. Charny, Ph.D.
Director of Holocaust and Genocide Review: Marc I Sherman, M.L.S.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The contents of this website are the responsibility of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem.