Despite Turkish Apologies, Ecevit's Words Have Devastating Effect on Jewish Support

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April 18, 2002

By Harut Sassounian
California Courier Publisher

More than two weeks have passed since that fateful day when Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians. Since then, he has come under such blistering criticism from both Israel and American-Jews that Ecevit and Turkish Americans have been busy trying to control the damage caused to Turkey's interests by profusely and repeatedly apologizing for that "indiscretion." Judging from various Jewish reactions, Ecevit's words will not be soon forgotten or forgiven!

On April 5th, one day after Ecevit's comments, nine major American-Jewish organizations sent a joint letter to the Turkish Prime Minister severely criticizing him and rejecting his "clarification" and apology. They said that his use of the term "genocide" to describe Israel's military operations in the West Bank is "absolutely wrong as fact and offensive as comment." The Jewish groups stated that the Israeli actions were "directly comparable" to the Turkish government's armed attacks on the Kurds in northern Iraq. In other words, Turkish actions could also be qualified as genocide. The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the B'nai B'rith International, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Hadassah, and the Orthodox Union concluded their letter by stating, "we register our profound disappointment with your comment." The representatives of six major American-Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, met with Turkey's Ambassador Faruk Logoglu on April 9, to personally register their protest.

Ironically, only a few months ago, these same nine American-Jewish groups had sent a joint letter to Pres. Bush urging him to provide more US assistance to Turkey. They had stated that "Turkey's extensive relationship with Israel on social, economic, and military issues has wavered not one bit." I wonder if these Jewish groups now regret having made such a pro-Turkish statement. Would they be so eager to lobby on behalf of Turkey again?

The New York Times covered the Jewish reactions to Ecevit's accusations. In an April 10th article titled, "With a word, Israeli-Turkish strain surfaces," reporter Douglas Frantz quoted Barry Jacobs, the director of strategic studies for the American Jewish Committee, as saying: "We have put a lot of effort in on behalf of Turkey." The AJC and other American Jewish groups were reported to have been "stung and angered" by Ecevit's words. "Israel also lodged diplomatic complaints," The Times wrote. The Turkish Zaman newspaper reported the remarks of Alon Liel, a former official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who said that everything will be forgotten in the future except Ecevit's accusation of genocide. The Jewish people will never forget that. Israel will henceforth question Turkey's trustworthiness, Liel said.

Ecevit's statement may have also caused a serious rift in the joint lobbying efforts of Jewish and Turkish Americans at the grassroots level.

Here are the powerful words of a Jewish-American woman, Rachel Krespin of Fairfield, Connecticut, who wrote the following letter to Ecevit: "Today, I lived one of the biggest disappointments of my entire life, when I was informed of your recent remarks defining Israel's war against terrorism in pure self-defense as 'genocide.' I feel very betrayed and shocked. I am a Turkish-Israeli-American who spends her entire life in the fight against defamation of Turkey, writing tens of letters every week, trying to counter the many virulent attempts of Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, etc., who all claim 'genocide.'" Ms. Krespin, describing herself as a member of the Turkish Forum (a pro-Turkish website), Daughters of Ataturk, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, and the American Association of Jewish Friends of Turkey, wrote: "As members of these distinguished organizations in America, we do all we can, to better the image of Turkey in the world. And we do not do this alone. It is the help, support and firm stand of countless Jewish organizations that give us credibility and make our cause heard. We repeatedly quote Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' denial of the 'Armenian Genocide' when we make our case." Reiterating her total dedication to "vigorous anti-Armenian, anti-Greek, and anti-Kurd campaigns," she told the Turkish Prime Minister, "Israel and the Jewish people around the world have faithfully stood by Turkey through all her battles and campaigns, both military and political. And you, Mr. Evevit, have betrayed Israel. And you betrayed me."

A potentially more damaging development for Turkey was disclosed in an upcoming editorial of the newsletter of the American Association of Jewish Friends of Turkey (AAJFT). Here are some excerpts: "By using the word 'genocide,' he [Ecevit] has destroyed the 80 years of slow and painstaking efforts on the part of the Sephardis to influence the majority of the Ashkenazic and Mizrahim American-Jewish organizations in favor of Turkey. Many of our members are questioning the continuation of our organization, the AAJFT, and frankly, we do not blame them."

The AAJFT editorial further stated that despite the persecutions of Jews in Turkey, such as "the sad episodes of the pogroms in Thrace, the Varlik Vergisi, the camp at Askala, the labor battalions, Éwe [Jews] stood up for Turkey whenever we couldÉ. We fought the insidious accusations against Turkey coming from the Greek, Armenian and Arab lobbies.É We wrote letters to the editors whenever the good name of Turkey was being vilified in the American press; we spoke up at political meetings when local Arabs, Armenians or Greeks wanted to pass anti-Turkish resolutions; we proudly marched at Turkish parades in the streets of New York with the Stars and Stripes surrounded by the red Turkish crescent flag on one side and the white Blue Star of David on the other; we testified at state hearings when anti-Turkish curricula were being debated. Mainly we influenced our fellow Ashkenazic and Mizrahi Jews in the United States who knew little about Turkey, or knew only what they heard from the anti-Turkish press. Our Sephardic goodwill ambassadors quietly and persistently continued this long uphill crusade to defend the good name of Turkey in our organizations, our synagogues, our local assemblies and everywhere we were present." The editorial concluded with the following drastic suggestion: "It pains us greatly to hear the word 'genocide' used in any other context except that of the genocide of the Jewish people, especially coming from Prime Minister Ecevit who has always insisted that there were no other genocides in the world. ÉPerhaps he did not realize the depth of the hurt of the Jewish people in hearing that word coming from the leader of a nation which we had always considered to be our friend. As president of our association, I call upon our members to decide whether we should continue to have an American Association of Jewish Friends of Turkey."

Given these highly negative repercussions, the Turks did everything possible to minimize the damage. Within 48 hours of his statement, Ecevit was compelled to issue two separate apologies. When Turkey's Foreign Minister Ismail Cem was asked during an interview on the Turkish Kanal 7 Television if the Jewish lobby is "so important to us that following its reaction, Prime Minster Ecevit had to correct his remark about a genocide twice," he replied: "the Jewish lobby has always supported Turkey against any injustices that have been made or that were going to be made." Cem also acknowledged that the Jewish lobby has always supported Turkey in connection with the Armenian genocide issue. A prominent Turkish commentator, Mehmet Ali Birand, described Ecevit's remarks as a "big gaffe" and said that the Prime Minister had acted like "a bull in a china shop." Referring to the "certain connotations" of the word genocide, especially when used by a Turkish leader, Birand suggested that "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones!" In a desperate attempt to appease the angered Jews, some Turkish-American activists even resorted to degrading their own Prime Minister, of course, from the safe shores of the United States. Here is a small sample of how they have characterized Ecevit. Prof. Yuruk Iyriboz wrote back to the "betrayed" Jewish-American woman, Rachel Krespin: "Ecevit's statement is not only devoid of the responsibility adhered to his position but also unintelligently augments other false claims in order to create myths provoking hatred among the peoplesÉ. As senility post-retirement is admissible, it is not compatible with leadership."

Mahmut Esat Ozan of the Turkish Forum wrote to Ms. Krespin apologetically: "Let me assure you, dear friend, there have been very few times in my whole lifetime when I was as much infuriated as I am now having heard about the utterly irresponsible bungling, blunder, slip-up, faux pas, folly, misjudgment and the miscarriage of justice all committed by one opinionated Turkish Prime Minister called Bulent Ecevit." Ergun Kirlikovali of the Turkish Forum wrote: "Turkish Forum urges Ecevit to apologize to Israel. Turkish Forum and the people of Turkey greatly value the special ties and the friendship with the Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere and is grateful for the continued support of all the Jewish-American organizations for our cause. We trust that Ecevit's ill-informed and unfortunate remarks, would not and cannot affect the strong Turkish-Jewish friendshipÉ."

Another Turk, Keenan Pars, took a more offensive tack in his writing to the president of the American Association of Jewish Friends of Turkey: "It is unfortunate that Turkey has to suffer through the senility of EcevitÉ. Israel has its own share of imbeciles and charlatans. Wasn't there a buffoon named Yossi Beillin [Israel's former Minister of Justice] who recently advocated that Israel should buy into the Armenian genocide scam and even teach it in schools? We don't get overly upset when scoundrels like Elie Wiesel, Noam Chomsky and other opportunists help perpetuate the hoax of the slick Armenian con artists. While these weasels may be 'experts' in the Holocaust matters, they have diddly-squat qualifications to speak about the Turk-Armenian conflict. They're in it to fatten their bank accounts. Just ask Elie Wiesel how much he charges the Armenians for a 'speaking engagement.' "

These frantic Turkish efforts to appease Israel and American Jews at all cost are a clear indication that Turkey is greatly dependent on the Jewish lobby to carry out its political agenda in Washington. The argument, therefore, that Israel's reluctance to recognize the Armenian Genocide is due to its concern about the Turkish backlash is groundless. Given the Turkish ingratitude for the numerous services rendered by American Jews to Turkey, the honorable thing for the Jews to do at this point is to discontinue these services and join with the Armenian American community in commemorating the Armenian Genocide on April 24.