Israel's politicians debate recognition of Armenian genocide

By Jennifer Lipman, December 27, 2011
Reuven Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin

Israeli parliamentarians have debated whether the country should officially recognise the mass killings of Armenians during the First World War as genocide.

Last week France angered Turkey by passing a law criminalising denying that what happened in 1915 was genocide.

Turkey has long refused to recognise the claim that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in 1915 and 1916, saying instead that 500,000 people died fighting against the Ottoman Empire during the world war

If Israel were to recognise what happened as genocide, it would further damage the already strained relations between Israel and Turkey, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the debate to be called off.

But Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said Israel had a moral obligation to recognise genocides of other people.

A Holocaust survivors' group backed the push to join France in recognisng what happened as genocide.

"The issue here is not and should not be political; this is a matter of deep conscience and moral imperative," said Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants

"Present day Turkey is not guilty of the murders committed by the Ottoman Empire a century ago, but it has a moral responsibility to confront its past honestly.

"As survivors ourselves, we more than others know that the recognition of the unspeakable historical suffering of the Armenians is the minimum that decency and morality demands from mankind".

Last updated: 4:48pm, December 27 2011