Several strongly pro-Israeli members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have stepped up their campaigns against NATO ally Turkey over the past week, in a campaign that has been quietly orchestrated by the big pro-Israel organization AIPAC. (See, for example, the ‘Related Materials’ linked to on this page of the AIPAC website.)
First prize for anti-Turkish rabble-rousing has to go to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D- Nevada), who told a press conference convened Tuesday to discuss the recent flotilla murders incident that “Turkey is responsible for the nine deaths aboard that ship. It is not Israel that’s responsible.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Berkley also "pointed to Turkish funding and support for the expedition."
The always-excellent M.J. Rosenberg has more details about the anti-Turkey campaign here. He also notes that, "The bash-Turkey movement did not start with the flotilla incident. It began when Turkey spoke out against Israel’s bloody invasion of Gaza in 2009.
Luckily, however, Turkey’s currently-ruling AKP (Justice and development Party) sent a high-powered delegation over to Washington for most of the past week, where they worked hard to get Turkey’s side of the story heard. Some details about their meetings are here. The Middle East Institute conference that I live-blogged Friday morning (here and the next four posts) was just one of the team’s engagements.
During the morning, as reported in those live-blog posts, conference participants heard from Adana deputy Ömer Çelik, the AK Party’s chairperson for external affairs, İbrahim Kalın, the chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, Namik Tan. The three men went to great lengths to refute some of the most damaging accusations that AIPAC and others have launched against the Turkish government, and to explain its position.
As they all noted, the current disagreements are not only over the flotilla murders incident, but also over Turkey’s role, along with Brazil’s President Lula Da Silva, in brokering the May 17 enriched uranium exchange agreement with Iran, and in voting against the latest round of sanctions that the Security Council imposed on Iran.
Here are some of the crucial points the three men made– both in the open session of the conference and in a smaller press gaggle held in conjunction with it:
1. The men strongly denied that the Turkish government had played any role in organizing the aid flotilla. Kalin told the press gaggle: “We advised them not to go but this was an international NGO initiative and we couldn’t prevent them."
2. Like many of the other governments from whose ports boats sailed to join the aid flotilla, the Turkish government gave a thorough pre-sailing inspection to the passengers and freight on the Mavi Marmara and the other two boats that sailed from Turkish ports, to ascertain that no weapons were on board and to register the names of passengers.
3. In an additional attempt to forestall violence, the Turkish government also coordinated directly with the governments of the U.S. and Israel while the boats were preparing to sail. In the press gaggle, Kalin said, "We discussed it with the U.S. and the Israelis. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was on phone with our foreign minister many times before sailing and we understood they would act very differently from way they did act with the boat."
Celik said of the Mavi Marmara:
- It had been thoroughly checked before it sailed. If Israel had concerns about the ship it could have informed Turkey and Turkey would have taken necessary measures.
Before the ship sailed Israel didn’t say anything. The Israeli forces could have disabled the steering and towed the ship to Israel.
4. On allegations that the Turkish government favors Hamas over the (western-supported) Fateh Party and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, Celik told the press gaggle:
- I’m not here to defend Hamas but all the parties do need to be at the table. We have excellent relations with all parties inside Palestine. [Hamas head] Khaled Meshaal has visited Turkey only once, right after the 2006 elections, which Hamas won, while Mahmoud Abbas has been to Ankara God knows how many times including very recently and stretching back to the time that he and Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara together in the lead-up to the Annapolis Peace conference and they addressed our parliament together.
The reason we insist Hamas needs to be at table is we don’t want anyone pushed out of the table when they represent half of the Pal people.
He also said that Turkey has used its relationship with Hamas to continue pushing Hamas towards support for the two-state solution. "It took the Hamas people a long time to come to the idea of the two-state solution, but they did," he said. He cited Meshaal’s recent
as evidence for this.
5. On claims that Turkey’s current policies are motivated by anti-semitism or anti-Israeli feelings, Celik said,
- We always want to have good relations with the American Jewish community. But if the Jewish community wants to change our behavior on issues of importance to us we can’t accept that. We have a long history of good relations. We invited all the Jewish community representatives here in DC to come and meet with us. Some came and some didn’t come. Those who didn’t come made a mistake.
.. Remember that we gave our support to Israel’s OECD membership. Turkey is Israel’s only true friend in region.
Friends do not threaten each other. If they threaten each other, then they’re not friends.
Israel’s friends should ask “What is the cost to Israel to lose Turkey’s friendship?”
6. At points throughout the conference, the three men noted that not only is
Turkey a longstanding member of NATO
, and its only majority-Muslim member, but also that it currently has troops deployed alongside American troops in Afghanistan and in the waters off Somalia. I can note (which the three Turkish speakers graciously did not) that Israel is not a NATO ally, and has no troops risking their lives in risky, US-led NATO deployments anywhere in the world.
7. One last note came in the panel discussion that I missed a lot of, due to the press gaggle. There was a question near the end that I did hear, as to whether Turkey is now seeing an intensification of the years-long struggle between its secularizers and its Islamists (of whom, the AKP are a politically moderate but very politically successful part)– with the suggestion that the current uproar among Turkey’s 74 million people over the flotilla murders is somehow being manipulated by the AKP and other Islamists.
The answer was given by Cengiz Candar, a very pro-American Turkish journo whom I’ve known a bit for decades, who is also extremely secularist in his views. His answer was, basically, that the "secular-Islamist struggle story" inside Turkey is old news, and no longer particularly intense; and that Turkish people’s feelings about the flotilla murders have nothing to do with that divide. That was interesting. It reminded me of some conversations Bill and I had when we were in Turkey last summer, when several people who are strongly associated with the secularizing stream in Turkish society said they thought the AKP was doing a generally excellent job in governing the country– including on issues of minority rights for ethnic and religious minorities, women’s rights, and so on.
… Bottom line: Turkey, which is an important and "emerging" power in the Middle East in its own right, as well as a crucial U.S. ally, looks as though it is not about to back down in the face of attacks and intimidation from the rabidly nationalist Netanyahu-Barak government in Israel or their politically powerful backers in the U.S. political system.
What I also heard from the Turkish leaders and representatives who spoke at the conference, though, was that they were eager to overcome the current, sharp disagreement with Israel; that they recognized that, given the strong emotions aroused among the peoples of both Turkey and Israel by the flotilla raids, it would be hard for the Erdogan government and the Netanyahu government to overcome this agreement on their own– and that therefore they strongly wanted help from the U.S. administration in mediating and de-escalating this conflict.
The three men repeatedly made the case that (presumably in comparison with what some political forces inside Turkey are urging them to do) the demands they are making of Israel with respect to the flotilla are modest. "Israel must apologize for those killings, and accept the international inquiry as called for by the U.N. Secretary General," said Amb. Tan.
Of course, in any kind of a similar case of a civilian vessel being attacked by the military forces of another state while on the high seas, many much weightier demands could also be made.
We could also note that one of those killed in the Israeli raid was a Turkish-U.S. dual national, Furkan Dogan. Ibrahim Kalin confirmed at the conference that the Turkish autopsy found that Dogan received four bullet wounds in his head and one in his chest. "This was not shooting in self defense, this was unjustified killing," he said.
Thus far, however, the U.S. government has done nothing to try to bring Dogan’s killer to any form of account. (Are some U.S. citizens more equal than others, I wonder? Especially, if some of them happen to be Muslims?) And at a broader level, there are no signs at all that the Obama administration is prepared to do anything at all to help Turkey’s anguished government and people win the apology from Israel and the "credible, international inquiry" that they say they so urgently need.
Last Sunday, as we recall, the Obama administration came out with strong support for the (navel-gazing) Israeli-dominated whitewash body constituted by the Israeli government.
No word of any U.S. support for Turkey’s request for an Israeli apology for the killing of nine of its citizens and the wounding of many more.