(VOA) — The Israeli parliament Tuesday debated whether to recognize the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks early in the 20th century as an act of genocide, a move that would further aggravate already tense relations between between Israel and Turkey.
Armenians say the Ottoman Turks killed about 1.5 million of their people in an orchestrated campaign between 1915 and 1923 and have urged governments to recognize the killings as genocide.
Many governments, including Israel’s, have in the past avoided the issue in order not to anger Ankara. But relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took office and moved toward what many Israelis see as an Islamic-oriented rule.
Israeli Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said during Tuesday’s discussion in the Knesset that Israel should recognize the mass killing of Armenians as genocide. However, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the debate was not targeted at modern Turkey.
No vote was taken Tuesday.
Israeli-American political analyst and author Leon Hadar told VOA that a growing number of Israeli lawmakers once reluctant to tackle the Armenian issue now want to put it on the table to keep Turkey in check.
“I think there is actually very strong support for such a move both on the political right, that is angry at Turkey because of its views on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and also among members of the left, which always wanted to condemn the Turks for the atrocities and were prevented from doing that by the government. So there is a strong and genuine public support to condemn the Turks on this issue.”
Hadar says the recognition of the massacre as genocide would boost the Armenian cause worldwide, but would further strain Israel’s ties with Turkey.
“The government at this point still wants to keep the door open to some kind of detente between Israel and Turkey. So my guess is that they might put this issue on the table and eventually decide to postpone the vote for a while or put it on hold. “
More than 20 countries have recognized the massacre of Armenians as genocide, but the United States and Israel are not among them.
Israeli-Turkish relations reached a low point in 2010 after Israeli soldiers killed nine Turks in a raid on a flotilla that tried to breach an Israeli blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid to its residents.
Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.