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Israel, Turkey & Armenian Dilemma

Israel Ponders Recognition Of Armenian Massacre And Her Strategic Need To Improve Strained Relations With Turkey

Issue Remains Open After Prime Minister Netanyahu & Foreign Minister Lieberman Appeal To Knesset Education Committee Not To Conduct Session

IsraCast Assessment: Israel Must Seek Balance Between Avoiding Further Deterioration With Turkey While Not Dodging Her Moral Obligation

Israel's government and her Parliament are at odds over whether the Jewish state should officially recognize Turkey's responsibility for the massacre of some one and a half million Armenians in 1915. In spite of appeals by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Knesset's Education Committee discussed the issue but stopped short of voting on recognition. IsraCast analyst David Essing is of the view that with the Iranian nuclear crisis coming to a head in 2012, it is crucial that Israel will not cause any further deterioration in the already strained relations with Turkey.

Reuven Rivlin

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has clashed with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman over a parliamentary discussion of the massacre of one and half million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey. Netanyahu appealed to Rivlin: 'Don't do it!' The Speaker replied that the issue had arisen in the Knesset not because of the current tension between Jerusalem and Ankara. Nor was it an attempt by Israel's parliament to settle the score with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who has jettisoned Turkey's long time alliance with Israel and who castigates the Jewish state at every opportunity. Rivlin went on to say that the State of Israel, after the Holocaust of six million Jews, was duty bound to discuss the question of what had befallen the Armenians, no matter how important the government's diplomatic needs. And he added: 'The Knesset discussion did not relate to the present government of Turkey or the current political situation'.

However the problem is that the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, has catagorically rejected responsibility for the massacre of the Armenians. Today in Turkey it is illegal to contend that Ottoman Empire carried out a genocide of the Armenians. Twenty- one counries including Canada, Italy, Russia, and Sweden have officially recognized the Aremnian genocide. U.S. President Barack Obama has not referred to it as genocide preferring to use the Armenian term Meds Yeghern. He has described it as one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century and in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Britain and Australia have yet to officially recognize it. Recently, the lower house of the French parliament passed a bill making it a crime to deny the genocide of the Armenians punishable by a fine of 45,000 Euros and one year in jail. It must also be approved by the French Senate in order to become law.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan reacted angrily by recalling his ambassador to Paris and warning of 'grave political and economic consequences'. Erdogan also accused France of carrying out a genocide of the Algerians during their war of liberation from 1954 to 1962. Paris has been pressing Ankara to recognize its historic past in the same manner that France has belatedly recognized that its own Vichy government collaborated with Nazi Germany in the deporting of French Jews to German concentration camps. But there are other international cases as well. At the end of the nineteenth century, not long before the Armenian massacre, King Leopold of Belgium carried out a monsterous genocide in the Congo that murdered tens of millions of Africans.

As documented by Harvard historian Caroline Elkins in her book 'Imperial Reckoning', the British reportedly massacred hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu men, women and children during the Mau Mau uprising in the fifties. Britain has refused to pay reparations contending that the British government is no longer responsible for what transpired during the colonial period. The point is should Israel, in its unique role as representing the Jewish Holocaust, now single out Turkey. Such an act could dash any hope of trying to repair the strained relations between the countries; it could turn all Turkish public opinion against the Jewish state and perhaps even make Turkey a mortal enemy at a time that the Arab Spring may be spawning even more dangerous threats.

Even the almighty United States of America has refrained from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide due to its strategic interests in the Middle East. And it's not as if, the massacre was ongoing like the recent blood-bath in Darfur that murdered up to 500,000, and where Israel did play a clandestine role in aiding the Republic of South Sudan in achieving independence. By officially joining the declarative campaign against Turkey, Israel would be burning all her bridges with the former ally. Without going into detail, it could even cost Israeli lives in the future. For example, the U.S. and NATO are now building a-state-of- the- art anti-ballistic missile system in Turkey. This missile defense is aimed at intercepting ballistic missiles launched by Iran. Does Israel not have a vital interest in doing everything possible to prevent any disruption to this major bastion against Iran's missile and nuclear weapon capability?

David Essing

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