Neighbors / Who's in Favor of Turkey?

The shock waves generated when the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a bill defining the 1915 massacre of the Armenians as genocide did not stop at Turkey's shores. There have also been many ripples in the corridors of the Jewish lobby in Washington.

M.J. Rosenberg, a senior fellow at the Media Matters Action Network - whose aim, among other things, is "correcting misinformation ... and combating wrongheaded assessments of conservative" groups relating to the Middle East - published an analysis of the resolution late last week. Rosenberg, who once edited the weekly information bulletin published by the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, and later "crossed the lines" to direct the Israel Policy Forum's policy department, wrote that the Israelis are trying to teach Turkey a lesson. If the resolution passes both houses of Congress and goes into effect, he wrote, "it will not be out of some newfound compassion for the victims of the Armenian genocide and their descendants but to send a message to Turkey: if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington. And, just maybe, the United States will pay it too."

Rosenberg based his analysis on an article written by Ron Kampeas, the Washington bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Kampeas noted that "in the past, the pro-Israel community has lobbied hard against previous attempts to pass similar resolutions, citing warnings from Turkish officials that it could harm the alliance not only with the United States but with Israel." But for the last year or so, he added, "officials of American pro-Israel groups have said that while they will not support new resolutions, they will no longer oppose them, citing Turkey's heightened rhetorical attacks on Israel and a flourishing of outright anti-Semitism the government has done little to stem."

Kampeas immediately responded to Rosenberg. In an article published on JTA's web site, he said he agreed that the pro-Israel community is "hanging back and telling the lawmakers, 'Do what you feel is right. We're not spending political capital on the Turks this season.'" But, he stressed, he rejects the contention that Israel or the Jewish lobby was behind the resolution. Back in 2007, when a similar resolution came before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, he noted, seven of the eight Jewish committee members also voted in favor: Only Robert Wexler of Florida voted against, because he was "a friend of the Turkish lobby." In other words, the Jews have always sought to define the Armenian massacre as a genocide.

So what changed this time around? In 2007, the committee's chairman, the late Tom Lantos, wrestled with the question before eventually voting in favor; this time, the chairman, Howard Berman, co-sponsored the bill. Wexler is no longer a congressman, and the other seven Jews on the panel all voted in favor of the resolution. Yet in fact, Kampeas noted, the bill secured a larger majority in the committee in 2007 - with 27 in favor and 21 opposed - than it did this time: Last week's resolution passed by a very narrow majority of 23-22.

Why does all this matter? Because the bottom line is that the Jewish congressmen also voted in favor in 2007, "when pro-Israel groups lobbied very, very hard against the resolution. That they felt freer to vote in favor yesterday is significant, but the bigger picture underscores that they are not the lobby's pawns."

So who was the winner in this vote? Did the pro-Israel lobby successfully avenge Israel, or did Jewish members of Congress vote as they did out of moral considerations rather than political ones?

For Turkey, these Jewish calculations are of no interest, nor is the balance of power between the Jewish lobby and Jewish congressmen. Suat Kiniklioglu, chairman of the Turkish parliament's committee on Israeli-Turkish relations, said in response to the resolution that "though it seems that neither the American government nor the Jewish lobby supported the Turkish position, the result was still a Turkish victory. The Armenians thought they would be able to achieve an easier and greater victory." In his eyes, and in those of the other Turkish members of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party, there is no doubt that Israel was behind the resolution, and that this is the price it is exacting for the past year's attacks on Israel by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Is this also the end of the honeymoon between Turkey and AIPAC and other Jewish organizations that have previously promoted Turkish interests? "Not necessarily," said a former Turkish diplomat. "Turkey has plenty of other interests with which the Jewish lobbies could assist it - for example, military purchasing."

An illness in need of treatment

The Turkish minister for women and family affairs, Selma Aliye Kavaf, has a clear stance: "I believe that homosexuality is a biological defect, an illness. Homosexuality is something that needs treatment, and therefore I don't have a positive attitude to homosexual marriages," she said.

Kavaf, whom Erdogan appointed to direct his party's activities for women even before he made her a minister, is a symbol of the party's openness toward women and its desire to advance them to senior positions. But it seems that advancing women is not necessarily synonymous with advancing liberalism.

A few days before she made her medical diagnosis, the minister also made it clear that she opposed love scenes that included kissing being screened in Turkish television soap operas. "In Europe and America, series like these are broadcast under supervision," she said. "They are coded, and anyone who wants to see them has to buy them separately. Scenes such as these are perhaps not important for the morals of people aged 45 or 50, but they can have a different impact on 4- to 10-year-olds."

So what does the minister like watching on TV? "I watch the 'Valley of the Wolves' series," she responded - the very series that sparked so much friction between Ankara and Jerusalem because of the way it depicts Israeli soldiers.