Friday, August 4, 2017

Yes, call it a genocide - Yaakov Ahimeir

by Yaakov Ahimeir

Israel has therefore found itself in a delicate situation, between a rock and a hard place. And as a result, it has all but forgotten to take the obvious diplomatic-moral step

If there is one word Israeli official are not going to mention publicly when talking about Armenia, it is the word genocide. Armenia clearly wants Israel to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide, and despite the Israeli government going out of its way to bolster relations with the country, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have consistently steered clear of this word. 

We have full diplomatic ties with Armenia, with ambassadors in both capitals, but you can count on senior Israeli official to avoid any recognition of the Armenian genocide, making Israel one of the last holdouts in this regard. 

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi recently visited the country and signed economic agreements with Armenia. Hanegbi's visit received scant coverage in the media, unlike Netanyahu's foreign visits. The diplomatic lingo has provided Israeli officials many Hebrew alternatives to choose from when describing this genocide, which claimed the lives of 800,000 to 1.5 million people. Our diplomats use the words "tragedy" or "massacre" and various other words. 

During his visit there, Hanegbi went out of his way to show his hosts where his heart truly lies. He visited the official Armenian genocide memorial in the capital Yerevan and the nearby museum. He wrote in the guest book that the world must make sure that such an event never recurs and that it will never be forgotten. During his tour of the museum he found a book from the 1920s -- some two decades before the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews -- with the title "The Armenian Holocaust." He also got the impression that Armenians generally understand Israel's reluctance to recognize the Armenian tragedy as genocide. Maybe the lofty Armenians that Hanegbi spoke to understood. Maybe they agreed. Maybe. 

Hanegbi is not the only high-ranking Israeli official who evades using the term. When Rivlin was Knesset speaker, he went out of his way to demonstrate how much he cared for this issue and whenever the matter came up in the plenum, he would make it abundantly clear where his heart lies. In fact, people close to Rivlin say his pro-Armenian sentiment is very much on display now that he is president. He has agreed to meet activists from Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter, and they have expressed hope that he would eventually say something along the lines of "Yes, a genocide took place." Rivlin wants to visit Armenia, but the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has made it clear that he must not say, "I, the president of the State of Israel, recognize the Armenian genocide." God forbid he utters those words, here or there. 

Over the years, Israel has bowed to Turkish pressure on this issue, but with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly insulting Israel, this capitulation makes little sense. In fact, Azerbaijan, currently engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, has gradually replaced the role of Turkey and this is clearly evident in the excellent defense ties Jerusalem maintains with Baku. 

Armenia has complained that Azerbaijan's extensive procurement of defense systems from Israel has cost the lives of many Armenians defending the landlocked region. Following his meeting with Hanegbi, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Papikyan said Israel was willing to sell weapons to Yerevan as well. This will result in Israeli weapons being used to spill both Azeri and Armenian blood. 

Israel has therefore found itself in a delicate situation, between a rock and a hard place. And as a result, it has all but forgotten to take the obvious diplomatic-moral step: recognizing the Armenian genocide. 

Yaakov Ahimeir


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