As you might have heard, there have been some tensions recently in the Turkish-Israeli relationship. So I was struck when John McCain, former Republican presidential candidate, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services committee, and speaker at a forum on US-Turkey relations, went out of his way to underscore his affinity for Jerusalem.
He was addressing a crowd of several hundred policymakers, activists, journalists and thinktank-types at the Middle East Institute’s now annual program on Turkey, and I think most (though not all) of the crowd was inclined to be more sympathetic to Turkey than Israel.
McCain, who has branded himself as a “maverick,” didn’t shy away from taking Turkey to task for the deterioration in ties with Israel, as I wrote about here. But he also made a side comment that spoke more personally to his views, and was unnecessary to the broader point he was making.
And he did so in his opening remarks, where he was trying to warm up and win over the audience. (Still using his 2008 presidential miss as an ice-breaker, he told the crowd how after his loss he slept like a baby: “Sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours ...” I doubt I’m the only one who’d heard that before, but everyone still laughed warmly.)
Then he went on to say how deep his personal relationship with Turkey is, touching on go-to crowd-pleasers such as Kemal Ataturk and the bravery of Turkish soldiers.
But when he mentioned his many visits to Turkey, he told the audience: “Istanbul along with Jerusalem remain my two favorite cities.”
Was it an intentional reminder that Israel’s relationship with the US wouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of strong Turkish ties? Possibly. Or maybe McCain just likes the shuk as much as the bazaar.- Hilary Leila Krieger