Turkey: 'Israel must get US Jews to back down'

Exclusive: Country concerned Congress will pass resolution terming Armenian massacre as genocide.

armenian patriarch 224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
armenian patriarch 224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Turkey expects Israel to "deliver" American Jewish organizations and ensure that the US Congress does not pass a resolution characterizing as genocide the massacre of Armenians during World War I, Turkish Ambassador to Israel Namik Tan told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Tan cut short a vacation and rushed back to Israel Thursday to deal with the Anti-Defamation League's reversal last week of its long-standing position on the issue. Tan said he understood that Israel's position had not changed, but "Israel should not let the [US] Jewish community change its position. This is our expectation and this is highly important, highly important." Turkey's concern is that last week's decision by ADL national director Abe Foxman would open the dikes and enable the passage in Congress of a nonbinding resolution calling Ottoman Turkey's actions against the Armenians "genocide." "If you want to touch and hurt the hearts of the people in Turkey, this is the issue," Tan said. "This is the No. 1 issue. You cannot easily explain to them any change in this." He said he had requested urgent meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, to impress upon them the importance of this issue to Turkey. Tan's request for these meetings came after President Shimon Peres spoke last week with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and explained that Israel had no intention of changing its policy on this issue, which is that Turkey and Armenia should resolve their differences over the matter through dialogue. In the eyes of the Turkish people, Tan said, his country's strategic relationship with Israel was not with Israel alone, but with the whole Jewish world. "They [the Turkish people] cannot make that differentiation," he said. Tan said he understood that the American Jewish organizations were just that - American Jewish organizations. But "we all know how they work in coordinating their efforts [with Israel]," he added. Tan opted for an anecdote to illustrate his point, saying former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said he was first an American, then the secretary of state, and then a Jew. Golda Meir "told Kissinger: 'You know, Mr. Secretary, we read things from right to left.' This tells a lot about my case," Tan said. The Turkish people "are waiting for this effort on the part of Israel to straighten out, to put this issue in perspective," he said. While senior Israeli government officials said Sunday that Israel was trying to explain to Turkey that it did not control the American Jewish organizations, Tan did not accept that argument. "On some issues there is no such thing as 'Israel cannot deliver‚'" he said, adding that this was one of those issues. Tan, who served two terms in Washington in the 1990s and worked closely with American Jewish organizations on this issue, said Israel had proven its ability to deliver the organizations on this matter in the past. While voicing no threats as to what would happen if Congress passed a resolution on this matter, Tan said Turkey - since the development of a close strategic relationship with Israel in the 1990s - had never "played with the basics of this whole relationship, with the basic fundamentals of this relationship." A reversal by the American Jewish community of its position on this matter, leading to the passage of the resolution in Congress, would be tantamount to playing with one of the fundamentals of this strategic relationship, he said. Meanwhile, visiting Rep. Gary Ackerman (D.-New York) told the Post that were the resolution to come to the Congress today, "it would pass, I guess. There is lots of heavy lobbying on both sides. Some things are better left in the fuzzy area. Some think that not addressing this for the moment is the better deal, considering the consequences." Nevertheless, Ackerman, a staunch supporter of Israel, said he had "been signed up on the bill for a long time." "Those of us who have condemned genocide and ethnic cleansing and insisted on people accepting responsibility and learning from the lessons of the Holocaust... well, the Armenian Genocide is something we've said must be owned up to," he said. The "complication is in the justice and timing," Ackerman said. "Turkey is a very important player, juxtaposed in many complicated issues now. Their government's cooperation is essential in a number of areas." He said he had been lobbied by Turkish Jews on the matter, who had asked that the issue be resolved "in a different arena," not in Congress. On the wider issue of the weight of Congressional resolutions, Ackerman said: "We're constantly shocked by the weight [attached to] the resolution. We don't take them [such resolutions] one-tenth as seriously as other people do. They don't have the force of law. If the Turkish parliament passed a resolution saying, 'Shame on you for stealing Manhattan'... we'd laugh it off. But then, of course, it doesn't rock our political boat." Tan said that while he understood Congressional resolutions on this would have no real "teeth," the psychological importance was enormous. Accepting the resolution, he said, "means you deny the past, it means you say that my ancestors have done something inconceivable. And the people who will be encouraged by this will use it to set up a campaign against Turkey and the Turkish people."