Jewish Leader Downplays Israeli Denial of Genocide

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The spiritual leader of Armenia’s tiny Jewish community tried Thursday to lower the temperature in the continuing uproar over the Israeli foreign ministry’s effective denial of the Armenian genocide–saying that it does not reflect the dominant view among Jews.

"No one in Armenia’should get the impression that that reflects Jewish or even Israeli public opinion," Gersh Meir Burshtein–the chief rabbi of several hundred Armenian Jews–told RFE/RL.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed a similar view during the government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament on Wednesday.

Last Friday the foreign ministry in Yerevan formally protested to official Tel Aviv over an Israeli envoy’s reported statement that the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenia’s in Ottoman Turkey was not a genocide. The Israeli ambassador to Georgia and Armenia–Rivka Kohen–was quoted as telling reporters in Yerevan earlier this month that what happened to the Armenia’s was just a "tragedy" that should not be compared to the Jewish Holocaust. She said it is therefore wrong to draw a parallel between the two.

The Israeli foreign ministry has responded to the protest–reportedly saying that Kohen’s commen’s are in line with its position on the issue.

Rabbi Burshtein said the Israeli government should not be judged too harshly for following what many Armenia’s regard as a pro-Turkish line. "Such outcries can not change its opinion at once," he argued. "Opinions usually change after many years of friendly relations."

Burshtein also said the Jewish community–for its part–is concerned about the recent publication in Armenia of an anti-Semitic book written by hitherto unknown Armenian authors. The book entitled "National System" identifies Jews and Turks as the leading enemies of the Armenian nation and calls the Holocaust a myth created by Zionists. Armenian Jewish leaders have lodged a protest with the authorities.

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