JERUSALEM (AP) — Over their prime minister's objections, Israeli lawmakers on Monday began debating a proposal to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.
Doing so would likely further strain already acrimonious relations with Turkey, which denies the genocide label and says the massacres occurred in civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated during World War I, with losses on both sides.
The issue is highly sensitive in Turkey, and lawmakers in France set off a diplomatic crisis with Ankara last week when they passed a bill making it a crime to deny that the killings amounted to genocide. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swiftly halted political and economic contacts with Paris, suspended military cooperation and ordered his country's ambassador home for consultations.
In Israel on Monday, a parliamentary committee considered a proposal to designate a memorial day for the killings and recognize them as genocide.
Parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin said the debate had nothing to do with Israel's deteriorating ties with Turkey but with Israel's moral obligation, given the history of the Nazi Holocaust, to recognize genocides elsewhere.
The panel took no decisions Monday.
An Israeli government official confirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had requested the debate be canceled because "it would be better for the country if this did not take place."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose the information. He would not say whether Israel had made any efforts to stave off any diplomatic fallout with Ankara.
Israel's deputy foreign minister, who has been extremely critical of Turkey, did not appear before the parliamentary committee as planned.
Israel, which once viewed Turkey as its closest ally in the Muslim world, has previously stopped short of recognizing the killings of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide. In recent years, however, ties with Turkey have frayed badly.
Turkish officials were outraged that Israel killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians during its war in the Gaza Strip three years ago. Things got even worse last year after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in a raid on a flotilla that tried to breach Israel's Gaza blockade.
Israel's refusal to apologize for the flotilla killings sent relations deteriorating even further. Last week, defense officials disclosed that Israel canceled a $141 million deal to sell airborne intelligence units to Turkey for fear they would fall into hostile hands.