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Genocide recognition not a job for politicians

Analysis

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November 24, 2016 23:28

Yuli Edelstein is Benjamin Netanyahu's hand-picked choice as speaker of the Knesset. For the past two years, he has run the Israeli parliament in accordance with the prime minister's often conflicting wishes, not sprung any surprises and, where needed, bent procedure to accommodate his agenda.

That's why Mr Netanyahu unceremoniously dumped the previous speaker, now President Reuven Rivlin. It is inconceivable that Mr Edelstein's call last week to recognise the murder of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish army, 100 years ago during the First World War, was done without the prime minister's knowledge and blessing.

The Speaker's statement last Tuesday was powerful but also carefully calibrated.

"It's no secret," he said, "that the state of Israel has so far taken an ambivalent stand regarding the genocide of the Armenian people."

He cited "a thicket of circumstances, diplomatic and others, which made the official Israeli position too hesitant, too restrained". But in his call to "re-examine thoroughly" that position, he did not actually make a judgment of his own.

And, despite his own senior position, effectively second to the president in the Israeli pecking order, his words do not reflect government policy, only his personal views. If he had been a minister, it would be different, but that is exactly why he was the one saying those words.

Israel is not about to formally recognise the Armenian genocide. In the past, it was the strategic relationship with Turkey which precluded that. Ties with Erdogan's Turkey are now rock bottom, but instead it is Israel's proximity to Armenia's main rival, Azerbaijan - supplier of much of Israel's oil needs, customer for its arms and important ally on Iran's border - that puts a formal recognition out of question.

On the other hand, there is a growing push inside and outside Israel for the country to join other Western countries in recognising the genocide. There is also, of course, a willingness to anger the Turkish government.

Speaker Edelstein is fulfilling a necessary role for Israeli diplomacy - allowing the nation to nearly recognise the Armenian tragedy for what it was without actually tying down the government to any official position.

Perhaps this is the best solution. History will always be politicised and it would be a positive thing for governments to keep out of these debates. Israel would be better off if its leaders and diplomats focused on more immediate matters and left the historical definitions to academics.

Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance authority, is already cooperating with the genocide memorial museum in Yerevan, as it should be. It would be best if Speaker Edelstein's words drew a line under the issue as far as the Israeli government is concerned.

November 24, 2016 23:28

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