By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed a debate on legislation to recognize the mass killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 3 that Netanyahu accepted its recommendation to postpone the debate until after Turkey’s upcoming polls over concern it “would likely help” the Turkish president in the election campaign.
The move comes amid a low point in relations between Israel and Turkey, which is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking a new mandate.
The World War I-era mass slaughter and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks is a highly sensitive issue in both Armenia and Turkey.
Armenia says it is one of the first examples of genocide in modern history, predating the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany against more than 6 million Jews during World War II.
Turkey objects, saying that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of civil strife rather than a planned, systemic effort by the Ottoman government against the Christian minority.
At least 23 countries, including France and Germany, recognize the killings as genocide.
The Israeli parliament on May 23 approved a motion to hold a plenary debate on “recognizing the Armenian genocide.”
According to local media reports, two bills on the issue were submitted by members of both the ruling coalition and opposition, and the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is now due to debate them.
Deputy Itzik Shmuli from the opposition Zionist Union slammed the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s explanation on the need to delay the debate as “false and ridiculous.”
“If foreign ministries in the world would act in such a cowardly and utilitarian manner on recognizing the Holocaust, where would we be today?” he tweeted.
A new round of diplomatic confrontation arose between Israel and Turkey following the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during protests on the Gaza border last month.
Erdogan called Israel a “terror state” and compared its actions against the Palestinians to the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Netanyahu fired back, saying the Turkish president’s hands were “stained with the blood of countless Kurdish citizens in Turkey and Syria.”
Ankara recalled its ambassador to Israel and expelled the Israel envoy and consul-general over the dispute, while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave.
Israel is home to a small Armenian community, with many members living in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter.