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Should Jews Apologize to Turkey or Go Back to Poland and Germany?

June 5th, 2010 - 8:47 am

Memo to Ambassador Tan

The Turkish ambassador to the United States has a long op-ed in the Washington Post asking for Israel to apologize to Turkey for the Gaza flotilla incident, and urging the U.S. to pressure Israel to act accordingly. It is an important document since Amb. Tan couches his argument in moral terms — Israel  illegally detained a ship on the high seas of civilian peace activists and human rights workers, killed Turkish citizens, and violated international law.

There is, of course, no mention by Tan of the origins and nature of the Turkish “peace” group that organized the gambit. Only in passing does the ambassador mention the rallying cries of the protestors (e.g., “Whatever the aid carriers may have chanted in opposition to Israel, this was a humanitarian initiative.”), after failing to note the chants, in fact, included both calls for a new holocaust (“Shut up, go back to Auschwitz” ) and glee about Americans killed on 9/11  (“Don’t forget 9/11″).

If anyone might be offering apologies, it should be Ambassador Tan, or at least an explanation for why a ship left a Turkish port headed for a planned confrontation. A ship, it should be added, staffed in large part by the Insani Yardim Vakfi organization, which according to American and European intelligence chiefs is a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda — an apparent conclusion that formerly a Turkish government used to share when it periodically raided the IHH’s compounds.

But on a larger point, the sanctimonious tone of Tan’s piece is depressing. Turkey currently quite illegally and against world opinion sponsors the occupation of Cyprus. Nicosia is a far more divided city than Jerusalem. The Turkish government has killed far more Turkish Kurds than the Israeli government has Palestinians; it has zero tolerance for foreign human rights organizations that have wished to investigate the treatment of Kurds in Turkish prisons. Turkish fighter aircraft are not always so careful to stay on their side of the Aegean.

As far as the request that Americans pressure Israel, that is an odd wish from a society that continually broadcasts gruesome anti-American serials on its television channels, and now has chosen to reach out (far more even than the Obama administration) to the terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Teheran and Damascus that are responsible for a number of American deaths in Iraq. When Turkey has felt its own security threatened, it has had no problem with warning of an invasion of Syria or crossing Iraqi borders. Demands don’t work well in the Turkish-American relationship, as we remember from the U.S. House of Representatives’ request that the Turkish government offer some sort of regret for the genocide of the Armenians — a declaration that outraged the present Turkish government. Ambassador Tan evokes history, particularly the Ottomans and World War II, to cement his argument of past Turkish tolerance. Some of us who study Mediterranean history are not quite impressed by either the human rights record of the Ottoman sultanate or the Turkish role in the second World War, especially the German-Turkish friendship pact of June 1941, days before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. My problem is that when I travel abroad, whether in Vienna, Cyprus, or old Smyrna, I am reminded of a different sort of past.

Many of us who have had positive feelings about Turkey in general and the Turkish-American relationship in particular have seen this past week’s events as a reminder of how different the present Turkish government wishes our relationship to evolve. Turkey’s present reset diplomacy had long ago convinced the EU to have second thoughts about extending membership to Ankara. And despite the protestations of our own foreign policy establishments, most Americans sense that the end of Turkey’s participation in NATO is only a matter of when, not if. Turkey wishes to reestablish, mutatis mutandis, its old Ottoman role as the more legitimate voice of the Sunni Muslim world. And that means it must sound radical to Muslims and sober and judicious to Westerners — and sometimes it tries both at the same time, as we now witness.

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