Photo: Gabi Menashe
ADL head Abe Foxman
Photo: Gabi Menashe

Testing Israel's diplomacy

The ADL's recognition of the Armenian genocide raises questions on relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewish organizations

Turkey was, predictably, infuriated by the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) 180 degree turn-around on the ultra-sensitive issue of the Armenian genocide because Ankara , Israel's closest Muslim ally in the region, relies heavily on Israel and Jewish organizations to support its claim that no genocide took place.


Israeli diplomats were flooded with angry messages from the Turkish capital, calling on Jerusalem to 'reign in' the ADL.


Despite attempts by Jerusalem to explain that it did not control American Jewish organizations, Turkey's Ambassador to Israel, Namig Tan, told the Azeri Press Agency this week: "Turkey has always approached positively the Jewish lobby of America and Israel.


However, in the aftermath the statement of Anti-Defamation League, the approach towards Israel is going to change, and it is not going to be positive. I think in this situation the Israeli Foreign Ministry should address this diplomatic crisis and demonstrate its power and influence to the Jewish lobby in the US, so that such events between the two friendly peoples and states are not repeated in the future."


The crisis was only partially defused after President Shimon Peres telephoned the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to calm the storm, and a statement was released by the Israeli embassy in Turkey, urging Jews not to take sides between Turkey and Armenia, while acknowledging the "horrible events" and "terrible suffering" of the Armenians.


The diplomatic incident has raised a question mark over Israel's relationship with high-profile American Jewish political organizations - what happens when Jerusalem and Diaspora Jewish organizations find themselves on different sides of the fence?


According to a source in a well - known Jewish American organization, such situations are not new in Israeli history. "This incident with Turkey is not the first time this has happened," the source said. "Jewish organizations have been involved in the State of Israel since before it was set up. They didn't always see eye to eye with Israel. Sometimes, Jewish organizations like AIPAC go against the wishes of the country. For example, when George Bush Senior wanted to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, AIPAC went against that, not necessarily with the Israeli government's approval, and that caused friction," he added.


According to the source, "Israel sometimes uses world Jewish organizations for roles that it couldn't do. It didn't want to criticize another country with (good) relations, but it will get Jewish organizations to criticize the country. You can have your cake and eat it too."


When it comes to the ADL, however, an independent stance is a top priority, the organization's spokesman, Ar i eh O'Sullivan, told Ynetnews. "There is a very close relationship between the ADL leadership and the leadership of Israel. We've worked together on various topics. But the ADL is an independent organization. Everyone from the ADL will tell you we have our own positions. Most of the time they jive with Israel, and sometimes they don't," O'Sullivan said.


Can such an independent voice - however legitimate, cause serious damage to Israel's diplomatic relations with other nations?


"It is strange for the action of a US Jewish group stating that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians during World War One to damage Turkey - Israel relations. After all, there are many groups which take the opposite stance and Israel is hardly responsible for the ADL's decision," said Professor Barry Rubin, an expert on Turkey and the Middle East.


"However, there are two reasons why it is damaging," Rubin, the director of the Global Research for International Affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, explained. "First, the issue is an incredibly sensitive one in Turkey. Aside from pride and patriotism, there are also real material reasons for Turkey to feel so strongly. Historically, Armenian groups have claimed parts of Turkey. If Turkey were to admit guilt it would face demands for massive reparations and perhaps territorial concessions," Rubin said.


"Second, the current government - which has an Islamist past and some Islamist elements despite being relatively centrist - is not friendly toward Israel and welcomes an excuse to reduce relations. It will use the issue in a demagogic way to promote antagonism toward Israel in Turkey," he added.


"Can American Jewish pressure groups damage Israeli relations with other countries? Perhaps but this is an unusual case. One also remembers how American Jewish pressure groups helped press Israel toward a greater activism to free Soviet Jewry in a very beneficial way," Rubin said. "What can the Israeli government do? Only point out that this is not its stand and that it is not responsible for the ADL's actions," he added.


And that is precisely what the government is doing. Speaking to Ynetnews, Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman, said: "We work very closely with American Jewish organizations, but ultimately they are independent actors." Regev preferred to focus on the "strong relationship with American Jewish communities," which he described as "unique."


AIPAC's role

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) proudly displays a quote from the New York Times on its website, describing AIPAC as "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."


Could the main pro-Israel lobby group ever find itself at odds with Israel? According to David Kreizelman, a foreign policy associate at AIPAC's Jerusalem office, the question is not relevant.


"Most American Jewish organizations are dedicated to some sort of ideas. They have clear opinions on subjects, certainly on a subject on like this (the Armenian genocide)," Kreizelman explained. "AIPAC, unlike other organizations, is totally non-ideological. There are a lot of moral and ethical issues that Jews are concerned about in the US. The100,000 members of AIPAC are only asked to be part of an agenda with one issue, and that is the strengthening of the Israel - American relationship, or more specifically the strengthening of relations between the democratically elected governments of America and Israel," he said.


"Translating that on the issue of Turkish - Armenian issue, AIPAC is not - and I can say this unequivocally - not lobbying on this issue at all... Unlike the ADL which has a very clear message on interracial inter-ethnic issues," Kreizelman said.


Debunking Walt and Mearsheimer

Next week, American Jewish organizations will be attacked in a book published by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, in which the American academics will expand on their essay, "The Israel Lobby," published in the London Review of Books earlier this year. According to Walt and Mearsheimer, the Jewish lobby in the US has hijacked American foreign policy to benefit Israel, to the detriment of American interests.


The ADL - Turkey incident serves as an excellent example of why Walt and Mearsheimer's conspirational claims of a Jewish cabal are false, the ADL's O'Sullivan explained. "There is no such thing as a Jewish cabal. The raison d'etre of the ADL is to show that this theory is just bigotry. The events involving the ADL and Turkey only goes to show that we don't always see eye to eye, and is proof in itself that there is no cabal," O'Sullivan said.


AIPAC's David Krazelman said his organization did not view the book as a new development, and drew parallels between Mearsheimer and Walt's claims to rhetoric espoused by Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s. Lindbergh, the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic, was an anti-Semitic political activist, who forms a central character in Philip Roth's recent novel, The Plot Against America, which offers an alternative scenario where Lindbergh becoming president and leads America to a pro-Nazi administration.


Krazelman said he was struck by the similarity of Lindbergh's letters to the claims of Mearsheimer and Walt, adding: "There is a core group, a small group of people, who say that Jewish influence is detrimental to the US. You can see that the vast majority of Americans do not feel this way. AIPAC looks at this type of situation and says, look, we're talking about steadfast group of people always talking about the same kind of thing. Why should we be sidetracked?"


Speaking to Ynetnews, an Israeli government source, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed. "By making a lot of noise over the book, we would play into the hands of the authors," he said. 


פרסום ראשון: 08.29.07, 20:06
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