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Israeli Lawmakers Debate Recognizing Armenian Genocide

Divisive issue: Armenian activists clash with riot police during a demonstration outside the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki in 2007.
Divisive issue: Armenian activists clash with riot police during a demonstration outside the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki in 2007.
JERUSALEM -- Israeli lawmakers have ignored government objections and discussed the possibility of recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The three-hour session on December 26 was held by the Israeli parliament's Education and Culture Committee and attended by committee members, government officials, and representatives of the country's Armenian and Turkish communities in a first-ever public hearing on the sensitive issue held in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

The committee made no decision after the session, saying it will hold more discussions on the issue in the future.

Knesset panels have held such hearings in the past but only behind closed doors, reflecting the close political and security ties between Israel and Turkey until recently. This was the first time such a discussion was open to the public.

Hagop Sevan of the Armenian National Committee in Jerusalem called that fact a "small victory" for local Armenians who have been pushing for an official Israeli recognition of the killings as genocide.

Successive Israeli governments have opposed such a move, citing the strategic character of the Turkish-Israeli relationship. That stance has officially remained the same even since a sharp deterioration of those ties that followed last year's deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ferry bound for Gaza.

"I can say that at this time, recognition of this type can have very grave strategic implications," Irit Lillian, a representative of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the hearing on what the Knesset committee defined as the possibility of "the Jewish people's recognition of the Armenian genocide."

She added that "our relations with Turkey today are so fragile and so delicate that there is no place to take them over the red line."

Ariyeh Eldad of the right-wing National Union party, who along with Zehava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz party initiated the hearing, dismissed those objections. "In the past it was wrong to bring up the issue because our ties with Turkey were good; now it is wrong because our ties with them are bad. When will the time be right?" he said.

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said on December 26 that Israel had an obligation, because of its history, to support genocide recognition.

"My position has not changed since 1990," Rivlin said. "The Jewish people -- on the moral level -- cannot be part of a world that denies a big disaster that happened to another people."

He also denied any connection between the hearing and Turkish-Israeli tensions.

Knesset committee Chairman Alex Miller likewise denied any political reasons for the development.

Gal-On spoke of Israel's "moral and historical obligation" to recognize the genocide "especially when we are still struggling against Holocaust denial."

She cited the recent passage by the French lower house of parliament of a bill criminalizing genocide denial in officially recognized cases, which currently include Rwanda in 1994, the Nazi-era Holocaust, and the mass killing of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turkey in 1915.

Meanwhile, the main author of that bill said she had received death threats after her website was apparently hacked by Turkish nationalists on December 25.

Valerie Boyer, a deputy in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for the Popular Movement party, was the main sponsor of the draft law approved by the National Assembly and strongly condemned by the Turkish government late last week.

Boyer told the BFM-TV station that she, her children, and her parents have received "extremely grave" threats since then.

"It's totally paradoxical to be the author and the rapporteur of a text which speaks of human rights, human dignity, recognition, and protection of the weak and legislate under threat; be threatened by a foreign state and then be subjected to extremely grave personal threat," she said. "Death threats, threats of rape and threats of destruction, name-calling and insults. I find this very shocking."

Boyer, who is also the deputy head of the French parliamentary caucus promoting ties with Armenia, said visitors to her website were automatically redirected to a website purportedly owned by a Turkish hacker group presenting itself as GrayHatz.

It displayed the Turkish national flag and contained a message addressed to the French government and France's 500,000-strong Armenian community.

"You, the diaspora Armenians, are such cowards that you don't have guts to open up the Armenian archives and face the truth," read the message posted in Turkish and English. "You, the French people, are so pitiful and pathetic that you are disregarding the truths for votes."

The draft law next must be approved by the Senate, which is dominated by members of the opposition Socialist Party.

An adviser to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told the daily "Le Figaro" on December 26 that Boyer and her family will be given "discreet and effective protection for some time."

Read more in Armenian here

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