by Jonathan Lis
Haaretz English Edition, May 13, 2015
JERUSALEM– During the July 8 session of the Education Committee of the Knesset de- voted to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, there was a strong support for the immediate recognition of the Armenian Genocide from a broad spectrum of political parties.
Although not a member of the committee, Chairman of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, made a special point of appearing and personally calling for unequivocal full recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Knesset of the State of Israel.
The fact that the Knesset Chairman and a Knesset committee called emphatically for recognition of the Armenian Genocide is big news after many years of stubborn and often shameful bowing to the Turkish demands to deny the genocide — something Israel would never put up with from another country in respect of denials of the Holocaust.
Chairman Edelstein also made very big news when he emphasized sternly that the Knesset is an independent body and not an arm or vassal of the government. Personally, at a time when I and many Israelis are deeply worried about a serious decline in democratic values and institutions in Israel, Edelstein’s firm defense of the concept of checks and balances between organs of governance was crucial.
Edelstein commented pointedly that it is unusual for the Chairman of the Knesset to make an appearance in a hearing, although the current President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who is a staunch sup- porter of recognition, also came to a hearing in 2012 when he was Chair of the Knesset. Edelstein said, “It is impossible to evade the issue of the Armenian Genocide. The Knesset simply cannot continue to put off recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Edelstein then made a point of noting that there are other countries where the government has not recognized the Armenian Genocide, but the Parliament of the country has given full recognition. He pledged that he will work for such recognition promptly by the Knesset. “The Knesset has evaded and skirted the issue up until now. I will make every effort to advance the recognition.
Yakov Margi, a member of the religious Shas party and Chair of the Education Committee, conducted the session and repeatedly took a clear stand that “the time has come for full recognition of the Armenian Genocide.” At the conclusion of the session, the Chair presented a formal summary in which he stated that “the Committee calls on the Government of Israel to recognize the Armenian Genocide.” He then added, “I ask myself repeatedly how many political interests can still prevent this necessary act.“
Participating in the session of the Education Committee were the Chairwoman of the Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, representatives of the governing Likud party (Chair of the Knesset), the Joint Arab List, center parties Yesh Atid, and Kulanu, and the Zionist Camp (Labor Party). The latter was represented by M.K. Nachman Shai who was the public representative of Israel in dramatic and colorful ceremonies in April in Yerevan to mark the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
I spoke in my capacity as Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem and as co-founder and past president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. “Armenia is now way ahead of Israel,” I reported. “In the weeks preceding the momentous historic occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Parliament passed two laws: One was formal recognition of the co-victims of Armenians in the genocide, the Assyrians and the Greeks. The other legislation was the commemoration of an annual day — in addition to Armenian Genocide Day — in recognition of all the victims of all the peoples who have suffered genocide in the world.” I concluded, “We in Israel need to be deeply ashamed of our failure to recognize the Armenian Genocide to this day.”
The spirit of the Committee was decisively in favor of recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Op- position to the move came indirectly from the representative of the Foreign Ministry who sought refuge in reporting a number of cooperative programs with Armenia, including at least one project to support the needy of Armenia. In the last hearing of the Knesset in 2012, the Foreign Ministry had openly opposed recognition, but now it simply sidestepped the issue.
As in 2012, a more vocal opposition came from a representative of the Azerbaijan community (Israel is known to conduct a huge arms trade with Azerbaijan), but he too was reduced to a much weaker case than in the past and restricted himself to claiming that recognition should first come from the nation(s) who committed the genocide.
He was repeatedly interrupted by the Chair of the Committee who took a firm stand for recognition.