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Knesset committee publicly debates "Armenian genocide"

Diplomacy is a tricky thing, especially when it rides the emotional coattails of genocide.

Six years ago, then (and still) Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Jerusalem on a rare and official visit.  He met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (now in a coma) and President Moshe Katsav (now in a prison).  He also visited Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, where — on behalf of the first Muslim-majority country to recognize the Holocaust (back in 1949) — he laid a wreath to show that Ankara, too, honors the six million Jews killed during WWII.  But Erdogan’s act was as much a reflection of his government’s humanity as it was its foreign policy interests.  Things were different then. Relations between the two countries were strong, and only getting stronger.  But oh, how times have changed.

On Monday, in a rare public debate, an Israeli Knesset (parliament) committee debated marking April 24th as a national memorial day commemorating the Ottoman killing of some 1.5 million ethnic Armenians nearly one-hundred years ago.  Modern-day Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, does not dispute the death at that time of more than 60 percent of the Armenian population.  But it repeatedly rebukes efforts by countries to dub the killings a “genocide.”  Naturally, Ankara is furious that this is happening.  And so is Erdogan.

Why now?  And why so publicly?

Previous discussions in Jerusalem surrounding the Armenian issue have been held in closed-door sessions, under the guise of the Defense and Foreign Affairs committees.  And they have usually failed.  Now, Monday’s motion to have the day included in the national curriculum was brought before the Education Committee, and thus the debate was an open one.  It was even televised.  It might not succeed, like previous efforts.  But it’s out there for consumption.

The Armenian Church in Jerusalem, a small yet powerful sect, has lobbied for years for this sort of attention and recognition.  Its patriarchate denies the motives are political and insists the discussion is long-overdue.  But one cannot help but see the political opportunism at the surface, with Israeli politicians taking a swing at relations with Turkey when they are at an all-time low.

What are they going to do about it?

Following the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound flotilla that left 8 Turkish nationals and 1 Turkish-American national dead some 18 months ago, Turkey repeatedly asked Israel to apologize and compensate the families of the victims.  Israel has refused to do so, and official relations between the two military regional allies have been repeatedly downgraded ever since.  Among the latest cards played was Ankara’s recalling of its ambassador from Tel Aviv in September of this year.  As one Israeli politician rhetorically asked the New York Times following Monday’s debate, “What’s Turkey going to do about it?  Recall its ambassador again?”

Suggestions that these are just Israel’s right-wing elements at work again are premature and inaccurate.  This debate is not necessarily — or not just — stemming from the political right amid the height of anti-Turkish sentiment.  In a peculiar legislative marriage, the Israeli Left is involved, too.  Monday’s session was promoted not just by foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, but by the left-wing (though still Zionist) Meretz party, as well.  Strange bedfellows, indeed, who rarely unite.  Support has also come from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-of-center Likud party, though the PM’s own security team has warned of dire consequences should the matter go forth.

Not so fast

For now, the discussion has been postponed.  The committee has said it will take up the matter at yet another session. But that may be little to assuade an irritated Turkish leader.

But Erdogan has little up his sleeve that he can try to use to try to stop them, short of rushing back to Yad Vashem quickly and laying another wreath.  And the odds of that happening are slimmer than Israel getting a Meretz/Yisrael Beiteinu coalition in the next election.  But again, diplomacy is a tricky business, full of surprises.

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    1. Piotr Berman

      I recall reading a story on Ahmedinejad visiting Erevan, giving speech to Armenian parliament and of course, mentioning Armenian genocide. The point I am trying to make is that it is not a point that breaks relationship with Turkey. Turkey and Iran cooperate on some matters and differ on other matters.

      Similarly, I expect Turkey to make some diplomatic notes to France and to ignore the issue later. Of course, it would be nice if Turkish government acknowledged what happened. But they have to sort out the more twisted parts of their national ideology.

      So it is really a non-issue. I would bet however that once again Israel will fail to acknowledge Armenian holocaust in some official manner. They could add an abject apology for all acts of Jews spitting at Armenians as they are at it, and who knows, return some confiscated Armenian properties in Jerusalem area?

      Reply to Comment
    2. borg

      Sir, – Re: “Accusing Israel of murder, Ankara pushes for censure at UN Security Council” (June 1), Jews have remained silent for far too long with respect of that blackest of days in Istanbul, when on February 23, 1942, the SS Struma, without a working engine, was towed into the Black Sea, where it was left to sink with the loss of 765 Jewish refugee passengers, including 100 children.

      At his next press conference, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan must be confronted with this, and with the behavior of his own father, maritime Captain Ahmet Erdogan, and that of his father’s fellow Istanbul port workers, for their failure to oppose and prevent the perpetration of this Turkish war crime.

      KARL HUTTENBAUER
      Berlin

      Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      “Karl Huttenbauer” is a blog with empty profile of the author which specializes in very verheated propaganda. This is from “http://www.turkishjews.com/struma/

      Thereupon, on February 23, 1942, the captain of Struma was ordered to leave the harbor. [After 71 days, during which Turkish authorities were quite hospitable.] […]
      The following day, February 24 at 9:00 A.M. the tragic news came through. An unexplained explosion had torn apart Struma while she was about 4-5 miles from the Cape Igne Ada. Several Turkish rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the area. They arrived on the scene struggling with huge waves and high wind. Alas, with the exception of one survivor all- 763 women, men and children had perished. The survivor was David Stoliar, a 21-year old Romanian Jew.

      He and Mrs. Solomonowitz were later granted admission to Palestine.

      There were speculations about the cause of the explosion. A German, Russian, Romanian, as well as a Bulgarian submarine was a strong possibility. The engine of the ship being rather small was ruled out as the source of explosion. A mine was a remote possibility, but was not ruled out entirely. Sea storms and freezing weather contributed to the fatalities, but did not account for the explosion. Or, what was thought to be an explosion was a sudden crack that caused the ship to come apart at the seams. Whatever it was, even today it is still a mystery.

      —–

      Another hit from search “Struma Black Sea” claims that Russians disclosed that it was a Soviet torpedo. Struma was operated by Bulgarians who were allied with Germans, so a captain of a Soviet submarine could think that the ship is carrying supplies for Wehrmacht. The ship was decrepit, but it underwent prolonged repairs in Istambul.

      “Huttenbauer”, whatever the true name is, is a falsifier, and so is our Borg.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Borg

      Mr Berman has not been able to refute that the Struma was towed out to sea where it was torpedoed, nor has he been able to refute the role of Capt Ahmet Erdogan. May I suggest that Mr Berman also engages in overheated propaganda

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lauren

      Why is this even a topic of Israel leaders? 1942 was a long time ago. Why does Israel feel the need to attack others on historical grounds when a modern genocide is being perpetrated within Israel & Palestine?
      Stop living in the past when all Jews were “victims”? You are a very powerful and wealthy country. Jews have been considered equals as long as I’ve been alive… 53 years. So, I have never in my life seen Jews being victimized unless an isolated anti-semitism act occurs. I notice more vicitmization in Israel as the Haredi attack other Jews.
      So, let’s focus on current events…. it’s relevant.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      Borg,

      towing a ship from a port was a part of a standard procedure. I gave a link and it is up to you to investigate if the web site is legitimate.

      There is nothing there about (1) not working engine (2) Turks causing an explosion. The engine was working, but there was an explosion, Turks work hard to rescue people from frigid waters and saved one person.

      If Erdogan is “furious” because of Armenian debate then he is wrong. Postulating what is apparently a doubly bogus story about his father (who died 23 years ago) is not only malicious but stupid to boot.

      One the other hand, the flippant attitude to a tragedy of another nation that is exhibited by Israeli politicians >>As one Israeli politician rhetorically asked the New York Times following Monday’s debate, “What’s Turkey going to do about it? Recall its ambassador again?” << is distasteful.

      Reply to Comment