WASHINGTON – US Congressmen ratcheted up their criticism of Turkey Wednesday,
warning that Ankara was risking its historically warm ties with Congress by
reaching toward Iran and breaking with Israel.
In a press conference
defending Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship trying to break the Gaza
blockade, several dozen of whose passengers had ties to terror organizations,
numerous members of Congress turned their ire toward Turkey.
responsible for the nine deaths aboard that ship. It is not Israel that’s
responsible,” declared Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), who pointed to
Turkish funding and support for the expedition.
“If Israel is at fault in
any way, it’s by falling into the trap that was set for them by
She continued: “The Turks have extraordinary nerve to lecture
the State of Israel when they are occupiers of the island of Cyprus, where they
systematically discriminate against the ecumenical patriarch, and they refuse to
recognize the Armenian genocide.”
Her comments – which were accompanied
by an announcement that Turkish representatives were no longer welcome in her
office – touched on sensitive issues with Turkey that the US has often shied
away from pressing Ankara on aggressively.
Her words raised the prospect
that the US Congress at least would be more assertive about its displeasure with
Speaking at the same press conference, Rep. Mike Pence
(R-Indiana) said he recently warned the Turkish ambassador that “With regard to
Congress of the United States, there will be a cost if Turkey stays on its
current path of growing closed to Iran and more antagonistic to the State of
Among other issues, he said, he was now likely to switch his
vote to support a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians during
the Ottoman empire as a genocide, a move he had voted against in the past
because he thought relations with Turkey were more important.
vehemently opposed the resolution, briefly recalling its ambassador to the US
when the measure passed a House committee earlier this year.
administration, in keeping with past administrations, has opposed the resolution
moving to the full chamber for a vote because of Turkish sensitivities. Many
Jewish lobbies in Washington opposed the resolution on the same
That argument also resonated in the past with Rep.
King (R-NY), another participant in the press conference who said he was now
likely to switch positions – as were many other of his colleagues.
stressed that this wasn’t just about Turkey’s support of the Gaza flotilla and
its heavy criticism of Israel, but the government’s move toward Iran and its
turn away from running a secular democratic state.
“This is a clear
effort, I believe, by Turkey to distance itself from the West, and there have to
be consequences for that,” he said.
Indeed, Adam Schiff (DCalifornia)
cited Turkey’s opposition to sanctions against Iran in circulating a letter
Tuesday calling for his colleagues to take up the Armenian genocide
“Now is the time to recognize the Armenian
As Turkey sides with Iran, why defend its campaign of genocide
denial?” asked Schiff, who sponsored the resolution.
At this point,
Capitol Hill watchers don’t see enough momentum to force a floor vote, given how
explosive the resolution would be in the current state of tension between the
US, Turkey and Israel. But that could change, and insiders did see
dissatisfaction with Turkey pushing forward initiatives to investigate the
country’s connection to the flotilla and other moves opposed by
The shift in tone, at least, was also evident in a letter Gary
Ackerman (D-New York) sent to the Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday afternoon
calling on the think tank to rethink honoring Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu with its public service award.
“Publicly honoring Foreign
Minister Davutoglu at this time is absolutely inconsistent – absolutely
inconsistent – with the mission of the WWC and the ideals that animated
President Wilson’s administration and foreign policy,” he wrote in a letter to
At the same time, members of Congress are reaffirming their
strong support of Israel and calling on the White House/administration to do the
A letter collecting signatures among members urges US President
Barack Obama “to remain steadfast in the defense of Israel in the face
international community’s rush to unfairly judge and condemn Israel in
international fora such as the United Nations Security Council.” The
the support of many American Jewish groups, including the Conference of
Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which put out a statement
backing the measure Wednesday.
But some have taken issue with it. The
progressive J Street lobby urged senators and representatives to amend
letter, or write their own.
“The sign-on letters now circulating in the
House and Senate, while expressing strong American support for Israel – a
position we endorse – fail to address the impact of the present closure
on the civilian population, the deep American interest in resolving this
conflict diplomatically, or the urgency of moving forward with diplomacy
it is too late,” J Street writes. “By ignoring these critical issues in
a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions,
serving neither the best interests of the United States or of Israel.”