American Jewish Group To Lobby For Turkey's EU Membership
Harut Sassounian Commentary 2005 February
For several years now, the Israeli government and a few American-Jewish groups have supported Turkey on various issues, some of which run counter to Armenian interests.
In addition to denying the Armenian Genocide, lobbying the US Congress against a commemorative resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and backing Azerbaijan in the Karabagh conflict, these Jewish groups have now added a new irritant to the existing disagreements with Armenians.
In a report issued last December, David A. Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote that the European Union's decision to start membership talks with Turkey was "truly momentous." He stated that Turkey is counting on the AJC and American Jews to lobby for its interests.
The enthusiastic and almost blind support by Israel and some American Jewish groups for Turkey's EU membership runs against Armenians' intent to force Turks to recognize the Armenian Genocide and open the border with Armenia, as the price of admission to the EU.
In the following excepts from his lengthy report, Mr. Harris makes abundantly clear the close partnership between Israel, the AJC and Turkey:
"...In the Turkish Jewish community, with which the American Jewish Committee has a very close affiliation, last week's news from Brussels will be enthusiastically received. The 22,000-member community has long taken the view that Turkey's future anchored in Western institutions is the best guarantee of national security, stability, and prosperity.
"And, in Israel, the EU's announcement will also be welcomed. Israel has publicly declared its support for Turkey's accession....
"In a recent American Jewish Committee visit to Turkey, the European Union was issue number one (and two and three) on the agenda of government officials, including the prime minister and foreign minister. The October EU Commission report had just been released, and the ensuing two months were seen as the last chance to persuade European leaders to do the 'right thing' at their fateful meeting in Brussels on December 16-17.
"Turkish leaders view the AJC as important to the political equation. Not only have we been consistently regarded as a steady and reliable voice for the Turkish-American relationship, but also, because of AJC's wide-ranging contacts throughout Europe, the Turks have counted on our support when we meet with French, German, Greek, and other European leaders. Lacking a well-organized Diaspora community, they've looked to American Jews to fulfill that role....
"In the 1990s, the [Turkish-Israeli] bilateral relationship took off in dramatic fashion, including defense cooperation, joint military exercises, counter-terrorism measures, intelligence-sharing, a free trade agreement, and tourism....
"Today, Israel regards its links with Turkey as vitally important and mutually beneficial....
"And not least, Turkish Jewry, though diminished in size, largely due to aliyah [exodus], continues to prosper and enjoy a full communal life, including keeping alive the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino. Anti-Semitism exists, but is not regarded as a major threat, according to communal leaders. What is a threat -- and not only to Jews -- is terrorism."
By denying the Armenian Genocide, siding with Azerbaijan on the Karabagh conflict, and lobbying the US Congress against recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the Israeli government and some American Jewish groups have deeply offended all Armenians. Nevertheless, both Jews and Armenians must be mindful of the following key points. Armenians must not forget that there are many prominent American Jewish individuals and organizations as well as high-ranking Israeli officials and scholars who fully support the Armenians on the foregoing issues. In their frustration and anger, Armenians would be wrong to lash out at all Jews.
For example, when some ill-mannered Yeshiva students insult Armenian clergymen in Jerusalem, Armenians should not react by accusing all Jews or all Israelis of being anti-Armenian. To be sure, several Israeli officials and Rabbis as well as Jewish-American organizations have condemned the crude behavior of these Yeshiva students. Furthermore, many righteous Jews have not shied away from severely criticizing the Israeli government for its denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Similarly, Israelis and Jewish Americans should not blame Armenians of being anti-Jewish, just because of prejudicial statements made by few Armenian individuals. Armenians and Jews would be unnecessarily antagonizing each other by indiscriminately condemning all members of both groups for the sins of the few. Political differences should not be pursued by exchanging insults, but through informed dialogue among Armenians and Jews of good faith.