PREPARED BY DR. ISRAEL W. CHARNY
First, there is the news of the French Senate on December 22, 2011 ratifying a proposed new law that will inflict severe penalties – a prison sentence and a stiff financial fine – on deniers of known genocides. Such denials definitely include the Armenian Genocide since the Armenian Genocide was recognized legally in France some years ago (2000). This story will certainly be presented by GPN at greater length, but since we are literally going to press with Issue 8 at this time, it will be deferred to our next issue.
Second, there is big news from Israel and since GPN originates in Israel and is published by an Israeli non-profit – the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and further given that the Institute Director and GPNEditor, Israel Charny was an invited participant in the hearings at the Knesset, we are pleased to report more of this event including bringing a series of direct quotations of the remarks that were made as they were recorded by Charny at the Knesset table.
On December 26, 2011, the Israeli Knesset Committee on Education held an unprecedented 3 hour hearing on possible recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
The resolution for a law recognizing the Armenian Genocide was introduced by Member of Knesset (MK) Zahava Gal-On, the current chairperson of a small but very noteworthy liberal party, Meretz. Over the years, previous resolutions along these lines were also introduced, invariably by Meretz members of Knesset, including in recent years, a now retired MK, Haim Oron. It will be of interest to many genocide scholars that Oron is the brother of a distinguished genocide scholar, Professor Yair Auron, several of whose works have appeared in GPN Genocide Prevention Now. Professor Yair Auron is the Director of the outstanding and only program in Israel of genocide studies, at the Open University of Israel and an Associate Director of the Institute of the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem. The two brothers simply spell their names in English somewhat differently.
Joining Gal-On in sponsoring the current resolution in the Knesset is an MK from another party, Arieh Eldad from the National Union party.
There is no question but that the overwhelming atmosphere, and simply the statistical predominance of remarks were emphatically in favor of recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In the news reports that have followed, there were already two explicit reports that predict that recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel is expected.
There is no question that we are enjoying a major change. When the writer of this article was asked in Armenia in June of this year – when I traveled to Yerevan to receive the coveted Presidential Prize for my contributions to recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the world and for my scientific work on denials of all genocides – I did predict that Knesset hearings were coming in Israel but said that we should not expect a successful outcome. Nobody knows at this writing for sure, but for the first time there is in the air a sense of a possible victory.
Here are statements that were made:
In Favor of Recognition
Dr. Georgette Avakian, Chair of the Armenian Community in Jerusalem: “The educational values we transmit to future generations are the most important. As an Israeli citizen of Armenian origin, I want to be proud of Israel’s decision.”
MK Arieh Eldad, co-sponsor of the resolution: “We used to be told that it is impossible to recognize the Armenian Genocide because of Israel’s good relationships with Turkey. Now we are told that we cannot recognize the Armenian Genocide because of Israel’s bad relationships with Turkey.”
Knesset Chairperson Reuven Rivlin: The Chair of the entire Knesset as a whole, MK Reuven Rivlin made it very clear that he attended the Education Committee hearing because he supports recognition of the Armenian Genocide fully. At the hearing, Rivlin said: “As human beings, Jews, and Israelis, we are obligated and committed to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Today’s deliberation is not about a political issue. Nor is it about Turkey. We are discussing a critical educational, spiritual, and ethical issue where Israel must neither deny the facts nor bend obsequiously. Recognizing the Armenian Genocide will only be to the honor of the government of Israel, but will also bring honor to Israel in the eyes of the government of Turkey.”
Former MK Yair Tzaban: Tzaban quoted the current Prime Minister Netanyahu (on an occasion unknown to this writer), “There are matters that are beyond politics. Therefore we must relate to this topic of genocide.”
Haim Oron: Former MK and Former Chairperson of Meretz party: “Woe onto us if we qualify for the category of bystanders.”
MK Uri Orbach, Jewish Home party: The Armenian Genocide was a promo for the genocide of our Jewish people. This is the first time ever that I see the advantages that ensue from deteriorated relations with another country [Turkey’s persistent attacks and disconnection from Israel in recent months]. But I wish that Israel would consider even more how it is humiliating itself. It is our clear-cut responsibility to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
MK Zeev Elkin, Chairperson of the Likud party faction in the Knesset: “I have come to this meeting of the Education Committee purposely even though I am not a member of this committee. However, I am sitting on the side of the audience and not with members of the Knesset at the head of the table because I am ashamed of Israel’s Knesset. The Berlin wall of our violation of an ethical imperative has yet to fall. Nonetheless, something positive is happening here today. I hope that, finally our Knesset will reach a decision recognizing the Armenian Genocide.”
MK Dov Khenin, Hadash party: MK Khenin first read a poem by well-known poet and genocide scholar, Peter Balakian which begins with the words, “I tried to imagine the ghetto in Vilna…”
For Khenin the massacre of the Armenians is part of an historical continuum that brought on the genocide of the Jews. “We must fight the industry of denial. We have three obligations: 1) a human obligation; 2) a Jewish obligation; 3) an international obligation.”
Professor Israel Charny, Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and Editor of GPN Genocide Prevention Now:
I opened with a quotation from Avshalom Feinberg, who was a member of a Jewish spy group (Nili) in Turkey in WWI, who had stumbled into being full blown eyewitnesses of the Armenian Genocide – and then warned the Jewish community in Palestine, then under Turkish rule, that the same fate was heading their way: “For I, as a Jew…asked myself if I had the right to weep solely for the grief of my nation and if Jeremiah [8:21] did not shed his tears of blood for the Armenians too?”
I also added my own remarks: “I am ashamed as a Jew. There is a place for realistic and pragmatic politics [realpolitik] in real life, but how much? I ask every member of Knesset, ‘Would you agree to denial of the Holocaust [of our Jewish people]? Under what circumstances? To what extent?”
Professor Yair Auron, Director of Genocide Studies at the Open University of Israel, and Associate Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem: Professor Yair Auron is in France at this time but sent a statement that was read for him:
“France was one of the first countries to award legal recognition to the Armenian Genocide already back in the year 2000. In 2006 an additional law was passed that denial of a known genocide is a criminal act. [Editor’s Comment – Turkey also went crazy at the time of this vote in France] The present legislation defining penalties for genocide denials is intended to complete the sequence of legislation. In Israel too we are on the verge of an historic debate in our legislature. This is the first time that a committee of the Knesset is dealing with the Armenian Genocide. Perhaps a ‘miracle’ will happen and the Education Committee of the Knesset will confirm recognition of the genocide. There is nothing more honorable that the State of Israel can do.”
Professor Yehuda Bauer, Yad Vashem, a distinguished world-class scholar of the Holocaust and a winner of the Israel Prize: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is lying when it refers to the tragedy of the Armenian people and not togenocide. I propose to you at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply to shut up, because what you are saying is a shame and disgrace. I am not comparing the Armenian Genocide with the Holocaust, but let us remember that 2/3 of the Armenian people were destroyed, and in our Holocaust 1/3 of the Jewish people were destroyed. Whoever denies the Armenian Genocide is denying all of history.”
Professor Elihu Richter, Genocide Prevention Program, Hadassah Hospital, School of Public Health: “The fundamental value of life is the value of life and the right of all human beings to their lives. These topics are not open to negotiation or bartering.”
Armenian Archbishop Aris Sirvanian was a striking figure at the hearings in his traditional Armenian clerical garb, and clearly drew major photogenic attention from the media for his presence. Archbishop Sirvanian said, “My grandfather and my grandmother were both killed in the Armenian Genocide. How can we forget?”
Opposition to Recognition
Altogether there were five speakers who opposed the recognition of the Armenian Genocide – two from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, one an MK, and two representing the Jewish community in Azerbaijan.
Foreign Ministry of Israel: Anna Azeri: The first representative of the Foreign Ministry read a statement of the standing policy of the Foreign Ministry that a great tragedy of a loss of life took place, and all human beings, and especially the Jewish people must regret it. However, “Nothing has happened recently that changes the situation obtained in previous deliberations of the Knesset. Besides, there is an ongoing dialogue taking place between Turkey and Armenia into which we should not infringe.”
The second representative of the Foreign Ministry, Irit Lillian, Director of the European Desk: “This resolution could, heaven forbid, lead to a deterioration of our relationship with Turkey. Our relationship with Turkey is so fragile that we should not push them over the red line, for there can be very serious consequences.”
The representative of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan who identified himself as the Chairman of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan threatened, baldly and unforgivingly, “If you vote for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, we will cut off relations with Israel. There are 1500 Israeli firms that are working in Azerbaijan. Show me another country that is Muslim or Christian that allows Jews the freedom that Azerbaijan does. We are a Shiite country with a good relationship with Iran. “
Atniel Shneller, Kadima party: The only member of Knesset to express opposition, regrettably, was Atniel Shneller, Kadima party: “At times one errs in allowing a sense of justice to overcome the reality of security and survival. For the Knesset to consider such legislation at this time is not wise, it is irresponsible at this time. Such a resolution is an invitation to the sword because one has gone all the way to absolute truth.”
The hearing ended without a vote. What does it mean?
The hearing took place for 3 hours, in a session that was well conducted by Chair, MK Alex Miller of the Yisrael Beitenu party.
The conclusion of the hearing came very abruptly when the Chair simply announced that the session was ended but promised that there would be a renewed session at a later unspecified date. Earlier some of the speakers had referred to the forthcoming vote of the committee, which in any case is the procedure that is understood to take place at the conclusion of such a committee hearing. While the Chair did not refer in any way to a future vote, it is fair to assume that a vote will take place.
To this writer it appeared that the Chair had come to the hearing with a decision that was made beforehand not to call for a vote on this day. But at the time of writing this report, I have no further or inside information about the politics that are taking place.
The Israeli press supported recognition strongly. A Haaretz Editorial on December 27, 2011 wrote, “The approximately 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered or driven out in death marches in 1915 deserve international recognition of the holocaust they suffered. Above all, they deserve Turkey’s recognition of this terrible chapter of history.” At the same time, the Editorial criticized Israel seriously at a spiritual level: “But for Israel to make this recognition at a time that is politically convenient to it, as part of a tit-for-tat and as a means to provoke Turkey, is light years away from the recognition the Armenian people deserve.”
A Jerusalem Post Editorial wrote: “Erdogan’s ruffian demeanor isn’t Israel-specific. There’s no plausible reason not to answer his hectoring defamations with incontrovertible historical truths. Why, for starters, not quit our unsavory habit of resisting Knesset resolutions on Turkey’s infamous atrocities against the Armenians? We could elaborate on Turkey’s first Armenian massacre of 1890 (100,000-200,000 dead); Turkey’s subsequent mega massacres of 1915 in which over a million Armenians perished in a series of bloodbaths and forced marches of uprooted civilians in Syria’s direction; the WWI slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians in Turkey’s southeast; the ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments and other operations that cost Kurds untold thousands of lives throughout the 20th century and beyond and still deny them the sovereignty they deserve; and finally, the 1974 invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus (which fails to bother the international community).” http://asbarez.com/100009/knesset-body-debates-armenian-genocide-recognition/
1. State of Israel Knesset Spokesman (December 26, 2011). The headline of the Knesset bulletin is: The Chairperson of the Knesset says in the Committee on Education about the tragedy of the Armenian people: “The Jewish people cannot remain indifferent to the tragedy of the Armenian people; political considerations, however important they may be, do not allow us to deny.”
2. Jerusalem Post editorial (December 28, 2011). Armenian Memorial. Erdogan’s unmistakeable aggressive stance toward the French parliamentary initiative contains a message for Israel too.
3. Haaretz Editorial (December 27, 2011). Israel mustn’t politicize the Armenian genocide. The approximately 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered or driven out in death marches in 1915 deserve international recognition of the holocaust they suffered.
4. Lis, Jonathan (December 26, 2011). Foreign Ministry: Israel’s recognition of Armenian genocide could threaten Turkey ties. Haaretz (Hebrew).
5. Lis, Jonathan (December 27, 2011). The Knesset hearing on the Armenian genocide ends without a vote: The Foreign Ministry warned of further deterioration in relations with Turkey because of the hearing. Haaretz (Hebrew).
6. Lis, Jonathan (December 27, 2011). Knesset convenes historic hearing on Armenian genocide: MK Gal-On: “Let’s separate relations with Turkey from Armenian issue.” Haaretz (English Edition).
7. Sarid, Yossi (December 26, 2011). ‘Turkophobia’: History will not forgive them. Haaretz (Hebrew Edition).