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An Anti-Defamation League (ADL) statement on Tuesday saying that Turkey's actions against Armenians between 1915-1918 "were tantamount to genocide" could negatively impact Turkey's close relationship with Israel, Turkish sources said Tuesday night.
"This might impact the relationship because the Jewish community and the lobby in Washington have supported Turkey in the past, and countered the Armenian lobby," the sources said. "This could have a negative impact."
ADL National Director Abe Foxman issued a statement Tuesday, saying that "in light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.
"We have never negated, but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities," the statement read. "On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. [the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I], that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide."
Amid turmoil in his organization over the firing of the ADL regional director in Boston for saying publicly that the group's policy line on this issue was "morally indefensible," Foxman said in the statement that he had consulted with "my friend and mentor" Elie Wiesel and other respected historians, "who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey's friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history."
The ADL and some other Jewish organizations have long been opposed to moves in Congress to adopt a resolution characterizing the events of that period as genocide. Foxman said that the ADL "firmly believes that a congressional resolution on such matters ... will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States."
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Foxman said he did not think that this new position should impact relations with Turkey, since the ADL still believes that congressional action on this matter would be counterproductive.
Turkey's position has long been that judgment of the events from this period should not be made in parliaments around the world, but rather by historians.
Foxman told the Post that he and Wiesel were "ready to call for an international conference of scholars, both Turkish and Armenian," to deal with the issue.
Foxman, who has excellent contacts both in Ankara and Jerusalem, said he had not consulted with either capital city before issuing his statement.
Neither Jerusalem nor Ankara had any official comment on the matter, with the respective foreign ministries taken completely by surprise by the statement.
Turkish authorities have said plainly that one of the reasons for Turkey's close ties with Israel is the Jewish lobby in Washington and the help various Jewish organizations have given Ankara in fending off potentially detrimental legislation over the years.
The ADL's position on this matter has also been motivated in the past by a concern for the Jewish community in Turkey. Asked whether he was worried that this position would now lead to a backlash against the Jewish community in Turkey, Foxman said, "I hope not, because we have not changed our basic position" against congressional legislation on this matter.