WASHINGTON - Turkish officials here took a defiant tone Friday, warning Israel it could lose
its best friend in the region and defending its vote against American- backed
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“Israel’s current policy is leading the country to global
isolation,” Ankara’s ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, warned at a
Middle East Institute conference on Turkey Friday.
“Not only that, Israel
is on the verge of losing one of its closest friends [Turkey].”
stressed that Israel could repair the relationship – which he said his country
still valued – if it acceded to Turkish demands that Jerusalem apologize for its
raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade and
undergo an international investigation.
Israel has rejected these demands
and suggested that Turkey should be itself investigated for allegedly
facilitating and aiding the ship. Tan dismissed a Turkish apology as
“ridiculous.” He and other officials at the conference, however, seemed to drop
previous Turkish demands that Israel lift the Gaza blockade or otherwise modify
its policies as a condition for improved relations.Turkish gov't appealed to flotilla activists not to sail
Ibrahim Kalin, chief
adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also stressed that the
government had appealed to the civilian-run ship not to sail for Gaza, but that
it paid no heed.
“We tried to convince these people not to go. We advised
them not to go, given the circumstances and difficulties and dangers,” he told
The Jerusalem Post after his speech.
In his address, Kalin called the
incident a “deep wound” and “one of the most tragic events in our recent
history,” declaring that an Israeli-run investigation was not sufficient, or
Another Turkish speaker, Omer Celik, deputy vice president of
Turkey’s ruling party, accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “trying to
derail the bilateral relationship.” He also said that while the country wanted
to maintain its historically strong relationship with American Jews, it would
not come at the expense of principle.
“If the Jewish community expects us
to behave differently on an issue where we have the right stance, we cannot
behave differently,” he said.
Celik also criticized those Jewish groups
that declined a meeting with his delegation this week, as the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee, Anti- Defamation League and B’nai B’rith did due to
the recent tension.
“Those who did not come made a mistake in terms of
their approach to the Turkish-Jewish relationship,” he said, adding, “If the
Jewish community here starts on a journey from the very beginning suggesting
that Israel is right on every issue, then they will hurt their
Tan, however, said he still considered as friends the Jews he
met in Israel on his recent tour as ambassador there, and during a previous
posting in Washington.Turkish official calls American Jews "very emotional"
He described American Jewry as “extremely
sophisticated, and very, very credible people, all of them.” He went on to say,
though, that “They are very emotional, very emotional. They have chosen the
simplest way, [to] try to shift the focus on Turkey, shift the blame on Turkey.
This is wrong.”
Tan and his colleagues also criticized members of
Congress who this week denounced Turkey for its treatment of Israel over the
Gaza incident and for voting against the Iran sanctions approved by the UN
Security Council earlier this month.
Kalin stressed that Ankara values
its enduring relations with the US, but pushed back against recent Congressional
criticism of the government’s actions as “not responsible” and “very
“It’s simply not acceptable. We completely reject that
kind of attitude,” Kalin told the Post.
“We believe that there’s much
more to be gained by retaining good relations between the US and Turkey, and
that kind of language of threat will only hurt.”
specifically to New York Rep. Gary Ackerman’s call for a Washington think tank
to reconsider its plan to give an award to the Turkish foreign minister; but
other members of Congress have questioned Turkey’s reliability as a NATO ally
and charged that the country was choosing the East and Islam over the
Turkish representatives have been making the rounds at the State
Department, the White House and Capitol Hill this week to try to calm tensions,
an effort Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkeley dismissed on Wednesday as a “charm
offensive” before declaring that she refused to meet with the Turkish delegation
until Turkey changed its policies.
While the Obama administration has
been more measured, Kalin noted that his party has been hearing a lot
“disappointment” and “displeasure” in Washington over the Iran vote.
he insisted that “We don’t see a crisis in US-Turkish relations, and we
want to see [one].”
He defended the Turkish position as one that resulted
from America’s own request that Ankara mediate with Iran, and argued
in favor of sanctions would have ruptured the relationship with Teheran
seriously to allow further engagement.
Tan told the conference that his
country shares the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, but thinks
sanctions won’t work and that the recent UN vote was a “mistake.”