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Israel freezes Armenian 'genocide' bill due to fears it could aid Erdogan

Foreign ministry says vote has been postponed as the recognition could be used favourably by the Turkish president in elections
Israel fears Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could use the bill on Armenian killings to his favour on 24 June. (AFP)

Israel froze work on a bill recognising the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottomans as genocide due to concerns it could aid the Turkish president in upcoming elections, an Israeli official said Sunday.

The bill, tabled in the wake of a diplomatic falling out between Ankara and Tel Aviv over Israel's killing of protesters in Gaza, was presented by politicians in the governing coalition and opposition.

On Sunday, it was due to be put to a preliminary vote by a ministerial committee.

However, with Turkish voters going to the polls on 24 June in presidential and parliamentary elections, fears have surfaced that the bill could be politicised by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his favour.

"The Foreign Ministry advised Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] to postpone the discussion on recognising the Armenian genocide until after the elections in Turkey, since such a discussion is liable to aid Erdogan in the elections," ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

"The prime minister accepted the Foreign Ministry's recommendation," Nahshon added.

Ties between Turkey and Israel, which have had a fractious diplomatic relationship in the past, took a turn for the worse on 14 May when protests along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel came to a crescendo as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem.

The Israeli military killed at least 61 Palestinian demonstrators on that day, using live fire on unarmed protesters. More then 120 have been killed since the protests began on 30 March.

In response, Erdogan called Israel a "terrorist state" and compared its treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis' persecution of Jews.

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and consul general and recalled its own envoy.

Israel subsequently told the Turkish consul general in Jerusalem to leave.

Netanyahu's son, Yair Netanyahu, then exacerbated the spat by posting an image displaying the words "fuck Turkey" on Instagram.

The bill relates to events in 1915, when Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were killed by Ottoman forces. Almost 30 countries have recognised the killings as genocide.

Turkey vehemently denies the accusation of genocide. It says 300,000-500,000 Armenians died in civil strife, with at least as many Turks dying as well.

Itzik Shmuli, an MP from the opposition Zionist Union, said the foreign ministry's reason for delaying the bill was "false and ridiculous".

"If foreign ministries in the world would act in such a cowardly and utilitarian manner on recognising the Holocaust, where would we be today?" he tweeted.