Between the lines of Rivlin’s genocide reversal

Despite that Holocaust survivors constituted a significant portion of its founding generation, Israel finds it difficult to recognize the tragedies of other communities around the world. There may be good reason for this: the brand of genocide practiced by the Third Reich had never been seen before, nor has been seen since. The Nazis transformed murder into a mechanized enterprise. As a result, Israel has often refrained from qualifying other tragedies in the world as genocide – including Armenian genocide of 1915.

Officially, Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide. This is not merely because Israel wants to ensure the Holocaust’s unique place in history, or because it does not believe that what took place in 1915 doesn’t qualify. Israel also fears what such a decision would do to relations between Israel and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and the United States (Israel would ask Jewish lobby groups to refrain from advocating for American recognition of the genocide).

One Israeli cartoonists way of depicting the Israel-Turkey relationship

However in recent years Israeli concern for Turkish sensitivities has decreased. Between January 2009 and May 2010, Israel-Turkey relations experienced a violent and abrupt deterioration. Diplomatic ties were reduced to the lowest possible level, and ambassadors in Ankara and Tel Aviv were recalled. Whereas past efforts to seek Knesset recognition of the Armenian genocide had been defused well before they reached the plenum floor, the collapse of ties created more space for public debate.

One of the biggest advocates in recent years was Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s new president. Here are a few quotes by Rivlin on the topic:

In 2012: “In the Land of Israel of 1915, people did not deny the Armenian Genocide…Jerusalem residents saw Armenians arriving in the thousands, starving. The evidence of the massacre was clear and sharp.”

The Jews then asked themselves two questions: Who’s next, and will we shed tears over the Armenians? We were next in line, but did not even know it at that time, nor could we have guessed it. Whoever conceived the Final Solution for Jews was impressed by the fact that, one day, the world will say nothing about it, the same way it was silent over the murder of the Armenians.”

In 2013: “It’s unthinkable that the Knesset ignore this tragedy…We demand that people don’t deny the Holocaust, and we can’t ignore the tragedy of another nation.”

In 2014: “It is hard for me to forgive other nations for ignoring our tragedy and we cannot ignore another nation’s tragedy. That is our moral obligation as people and Jews.”

One would assume that with a history of on-the-record statements, not to mention his recent comments about reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, the new president would spearhead efforts to acknowledge the Armenian genocide in time for its 100th anniversary on April 25, 2014.

That no longer appears to be the case. Presented with the annual petition last week, Rivlin changed his stance.

Perhaps Rivlin decided that, now president, it was beneath his position to engage in smaller legislative issues. But Channel 2’s report that “unnamed Foreign Ministry officials welcomed the president’s ‘statesmanship'” hints that Rivlin’s decision was a political one.

It is likely that in some small way either Rivlin, or other senior politicians, are engaged in another round of negotiations with Turkey. This may come as a surprise; the war in Gaza last summer scuttled reconciliation talks between the two countries. However neither Israel nor Turkey want the bad political blood to spoil their annual bilateral trade, which stands upwards of $5 billion.

The Armenian genocide shouldn’t be used as “trade bait”, in fact it shouldn’t be a geopolitical issue whatsoever. But assuming that ignoring the Armenian genocide will save Israel-Turkey relations is faulty logic.

Ankara may be concerned about the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, but in the last decades has taken some measures in order to engage with its darker past. Last April, Erdogan wished “the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.” Understandably, this wasn’t good enough for Armenians, yet placed in the context of the Turkish republic’s attitude towards the Armenian narrative this was an enormous first step.

More importantly, Turkey’s primary discord with Israel revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Considering that the nuances of recognizing the Armenian genocide are not going to change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would behoove Israeli politicians to engage honestly with their Turkish counterparts about the core issues of their relationship, rather than being sidetracked by secondary disputes.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel, Turkey
  • M Free

    See Watchers of the Sky to place in geo politic context Rivlin’s reluctance to acknowledge that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians. The stunning film traces the work of Raphael Lemkin, an Austrian Jew who coined the term and dedicated his life to getting the community of nations to name, prevent and prosecute those who commit Genocide. The film ends with a Nuremberg prosecutor who joined Lemkin’s battle. President Rivlin, WAKEUP!

  • Avram Cohen

    It needs to be recognized and the sooner the better!

  • Avram Cohen