American Jewish community ends support of Turkish interests on Hill

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In October 2000, the government of Turkey had a problem.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert had promised to bring a resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide to the floor for a vote, a move that Ankara said would be a slap in the face to a NATO ally.

The Turks called up Keith Weissman, a senior researcher from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and asked him to intervene.

Mr. Weissman said in an interview this week that AIPAC lit up the phones and managed at the last minute — with the help of the State Department — to persuade President Clinton himself to write a letter to Mr. Hastert saying a vote on the resolution would cause strategic damage to U.S. interests.

The last-minute push worked. Mr. Hastert removed the resolution from the floor, and the full Congress has yet to take up the matter to this day.

But the American Jewish community is no longer helping Turkey, after a tumultuous deterioration of ties between Israel and Turkey in the past four years. The government in Ankara last week decried a botched Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla, which claimed at least nine lives, as an act of “state terror.”

In some ways, the Memorial Day flotilla affair marks an end of Israel’s more than 20-year strategic alliance with Turkey, and the resulting support from the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

Turkey, which has a secular constitution, was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel, in 1949. Israel has historically sought to form alliances with countries on the periphery of the Arab world such as Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia.

In 1982, when Israel invaded southern Lebanon, its army destroyed training camps affiliated with the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, a terrorist organization responsible for the slayings of Turkish diplomats.

Turkey rewarded Israel’s counterterrorism operations with increased intelligence ties. The intelligence relationship soon blossomed into full ambassadorial relations, and increased commercial trade and closer military cooperation. In exchange for arms sales from Israel, Turkey allowed the Israeli air force to use Anatolian airspace for training purposes.

The relationship began to sour in the early 2000s with the election of the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish), which is based on elements of parties that had been banned for Islamism.

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.

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