In a sign of the level of tension between Israel and Turkey, Ankara did not turn to Israel this year for help fighting a congressional resolution labeling the World War I killing of Armenians genocide, Israeli diplomatic officials said over the weekend.
In addition, several American Jewish groups downgraded their traditional opposition to the non-binding measure, which a congressional committee passed 23-22 on Thursday. Ankara immediately recalled its new ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, for consultations after the vote.
Turkey also warned the Obama administration on Friday of negative diplomatic consequences if it fails to impede the US resolution branding the WWI-era killing of Armenians as genocide.
“It would be difficult to suggest that the enthusiasm or activism and the involvement of the community in this issue has not at all been affected by the strain in relations and some of the things said in Turkey about Israel,” said Jess Hordes, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, though he noted the organization’s position that the resolution was counterproductive had not changed. “We’re not actively making calls, but we responded to calls that we received.”
The American Jewish Committee also indicated it played no role in the annual jockeying surround this bill, which it has actively opposed in the past.
“We took no position on this resolution,” said Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs. In the past “we have been more assertive in communicating our message that this was not an appropriate vehicle to determine the truth of what happened.”
Both Isaacson and Hordes, however, said that in contrast to Israel’s experience, the Turkish Embassy continued to reach out to the Jewish community in the US on the issue. Hordes noted that Tan, who arrived in the last month, met with Jewish leaders last Friday “not by chance.” Turkey has always looked to Israel and Jewish groups for help lobbying against the bill, a call readily answered by many organizations that have prioritized the Turkish-Israeli strategic relationship.
In 2007, when the resolution was also passed by a congressional committee, Tan – at that time the ambassador to Israel – told The Jerusalem Post that Turkey expected Israel to “deliver” American Jewish organizations and ensure the non-binding resolution’s defeat.
One Israeli diplomatic official suggested a number of reasons for Ankara’s change in policy this year, including the belief that its own lobby in Washington could effectively do the job, or that – because of the tension with Jerusalem – it simply did not want to ask Israel for a favor at this time.
Indeed, Thursday’s vote came amid deep stress in the Israeli-Turkish relationship following repeated high-level criticism of the Jewish state and anti-Semitic productions on Turkey’s state-run TV, as well as an incident in which Israel’s Foreign Ministry had to apologize for embarrassing the Turkish ambassador.
The vote also came as the US Jewish community has reevaluated its stance on whether to call the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Turks amid the chaos of WWI a genocide. Many organizations have been criticized from inside and outside the community for not supporting the Armenian position, with the ADL changing its stance in 2007 to describe the atrocities as “tantamount to genocide.”
That year a congressional committee also passed a resolution similar to this year’s, but the Bush administration was successful in keeping it from reaching a full House vote.
Though US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were all on record supporting the resolution before holding their current positions, the administration is now also trying to keep it from reaching a floor vote.
“We oppose any further action on this issue within the Congress,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday, noting that Clinton had called key House leaders in opposition to the vote ahead of time. “We feel that the best place to resolve these issues is through the ongoing normalization process between Turkey and Armenia.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-California), who presided over Thursday’s vote, acknowledged the geopolitical sensitivities surrounding the measure before backing it.
“The Turks say passing this resolution could have terrible consequences for our bilateral relationship, and indeed perhaps there will be some consequences. But I believe that Turkey values its relations with the United States at least as much as we value our relations with Turkey,” he said.
“And I believe the Turks, however deep their dismay today, fundamentally agree that the US-Turkish alliance is simply too important to get sidetracked by a non-binding resolution passed by the House of Representatives. At some point, every nation must come to terms with its own history. And that is all we ask of Turkey.”
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of WWI, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country would assess
what measures it would take, adding that the issue was a matter of
“honor” for Ankara.
Prospects for passage of the measure in the full House of Representatives are uncertain.
AP contributed to this report.