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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Flotilla fallout: US Jews to stop backing Turks on Capitol Hill

You can let go of your nostrils and breathe the air now. That is, if you were ever aware enough of the horrible stench from American Jews' actions on Capitol Hill to have put your fingers up to hold them.

For ten years, the American Jewish community has held its collective nose and backed Turkish interests on Capitol Hill. Every time Congress wanted to discuss the Armenian genocide, it was American Jews who worked to prevent it from happening. Every time Congress wanted to discuss the occupation of Cyprus, it was American Jews who protected the Turks. Ostensibly (and for a long time actually), they were acting in Israel's interests, but even the incident pictured above - the Israeli ambassador to Turkey being pelted with eggs in November 2009 - was not enough to put a stop to it. But now, consciences can become clearer. The American Jewish community is no longer protecting Turkey (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "It's not completely over. There are still close ties between many in Turkey and the community and there are still a lot of common interests."

But Mr. Hoenlein added, "The Turks happen to have a government that is extremist, that has chosen a path that is violative of the past relationship. It has been a steady process, not just related to the most recent incident. This began with the election of this Islamist government in 2002."

Barry Jacobs, the American Jewish Committee's former director of strategic studies in the office of government and international affairs, also noted Turkey's critical stance toward Israel's 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon to root out Hezbollah terrorists attacking the Jewish state.

"This started in 2006 when I remember one Israeli diplomat complained that Turkish support for Hezbollah had 'out-Arabed the Arabs,'" Mr. Jacobs said, adding that Turkey's unconditional support for Hamas since 2007, combined with Jewish discomfort with defending the Turks on the Armenian issue, led to a dampening of support.

"The major Jewish organizations decided in 2008 that the question of the Armenian genocide resolution was so sensitive we would no longer take public and private positions to oppose it," Mr. Jacobs said.

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he thinks the Turks made a strategic decision to break with Israel during the Gaza war. He pointed to a heated exchange in 2009 at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a session with Israeli President Shimon Peres, telling him: "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill."

"We saw things deteriorating but it did not surface publicly until Davos," Mr. Foxman said. "Until then, the trade continued, the military continued. It did not happen till the Gaza war. My feeling is that Turkey made a geopolitical decision before, but it needed an excuse to turn so dramatically."


Today, far from being an asset for Turkey, the American Jewish community appears to becoming a potent foe of Turkish interests in Washington.

On Tuesday for example, the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release calling on the State Department to designate the IHH, the Turkish charity that helped organize the free-Gaza flotilla as a foreign terrorist organization. In Turkey, the IHH has been praised as a group of peace activists and humanitarians.

"In terms of the Jewish community and Israel, neither one of us wants to throw it away and hope it is not over," Mr. Foxman said. "But every day there is another provocation. Every day the Turkish government goes out of its way to be insulting to Israel and another link is broken."

Morris Amitay, a former executive director of AIPAC who has also represented Turkey, was more blunt.

"If someone asked me now if I would try to protect Turkey in Congress, my response would be, 'You've got to be kidding,'" he said.

The liberal Jewish organizations J Street and Americans for Peace Now declined to comment on the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties in Washington.
It is said that there are no friendships in international relations - only interests. But that doesn't mean that one should feel no remorse about having to support positions that are just wrong. Now, when it comes to Turkey, American Jews can vote their conscience. And that has to be a silver lining in the cloud of relations between Israel and Turkey.


At 7:52 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Exactly.Turkey shouldn't expect American Jews to continue to look out for it as it tears up its relations with Israel. What goes around comes around. And its not Israel that is going to pay the real price of the Flotilla Of Fools fallout in Washington.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Hatfield said...

I disagree about interests and friendship in international relations. Perhaps Israel is strategically useful to the U.S. but certainly during 1950s and 1960s it wasn't. In any case, whatever use it may have to the U.S., what binds the two countries is friendship (and not Obama). Most Americans recognize a shared bond with Israel and I'm sure they don't think about strategic interests. Same for a long time with the U.K. The U.K. is not a large country and is no more useful to the U.S. than, say, Spain might be but we had a "special relationship" (now gone under Obama).

International relations may be influenced by strategic planning but in the very long term, only the affection of peoples for one another can keep two countries in a strong alliance.


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