The Day In Israel: Thursday June 17th, 2010

US Congressmen are talking Turkey. And it’s no thanksgiving.

US Congressmen ratcheted up their criticism of Turkey Wednesday, warning that Ankara was risking its historically warm ties with Congress by reaching toward Iran and breaking with Israel.

In a press conference defending Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship trying to break the Gaza blockade, several dozen of whose passengers had ties to terror organizations, numerous members of Congress turned their ire toward Turkey.

“Turkey is responsible for the nine deaths aboard that ship. It is not Israel that’s responsible,” declared Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), who pointed to Turkish funding and support for the expedition.

“If Israel is at fault in any way, it’s by falling into the trap that was set for them by Turkey.”

She continued: “The Turks have extraordinary nerve to lecture the State of Israel when they are occupiers of the island of Cyprus, where they systematically discriminate against the ecumenical patriarch, and they refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide.”

Her comments – which were accompanied by an announcement that Turkish representatives were no longer welcome in her office – touched on sensitive issues with Turkey that the US has often shied away from pressing Ankara on aggressively.

Her words raised the prospect that the US Congress at least would be more assertive about its displeasure with Turkey.

Speaking at the same press conference, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) said he recently warned the Turkish ambassador that “With regard to Congress of the United States, there will be a cost if Turkey stays on its current path of growing closed to Iran and more antagonistic to the State of Israel.”

Among other issues, he said, he was now likely to switch his vote to support a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians during the Ottoman empire as a genocide, a move he had voted against in the past because he thought relations with Turkey were more important.

Turkey has vehemently opposed the resolution, briefly recalling its ambassador to the US when the measure passed a House committee earlier this year.

The Obama administration, in keeping with past administrations, has opposed the resolution moving to the full chamber for a vote because of Turkish sensitivities. Many Jewish lobbies in Washington opposed the resolution on the same grounds.

That argument also resonated in the past with Rep. Peter King (R-NY), another participant in the press conference who said he was now likely to switch positions – as were many other of his colleagues.

King stressed that this wasn’t just about Turkey’s support of the Gaza flotilla and its heavy criticism of Israel, but the government’s move toward Iran and its turn away from running a secular democratic state.

“This is a clear effort, I believe, by Turkey to distance itself from the West, and there have to be consequences for that,” he said.

Indeed, Adam Schiff (DCalifornia) cited Turkey’s opposition to sanctions against Iran in circulating a letter Tuesday calling for his colleagues to take up the Armenian genocide resolution.

“Now is the time to recognize the Armenian genocide.

As Turkey sides with Iran, why defend its campaign of genocide denial?” asked Schiff, who sponsored the resolution.

At this point, Capitol Hill watchers don’t see enough momentum to force a floor vote, given how explosive the resolution would be in the current state of tension between the US, Turkey and Israel. But that could change, and insiders did see dissatisfaction with Turkey pushing forward initiatives to investigate the country’s connection to the flotilla and other moves opposed by Ankara.

The shift in tone, at least, was also evident in a letter Gary Ackerman (D-New York) sent to the Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday afternoon calling on the think tank to rethink honoring Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu with its public service award.

“Publicly honoring Foreign Minister Davutoglu at this time is absolutely inconsistent – absolutely inconsistent – with the mission of the WWC and the ideals that animated President Wilson’s administration and foreign policy,” he wrote in a letter to the center.

At the same time, members of Congress are reaffirming their strong support of Israel and calling on the White House/administration to do the same.

A letter collecting signatures among members urges US President Barack Obama “to remain steadfast in the defense of Israel in the face of the international community’s rush to unfairly judge and condemn Israel in international fora such as the United Nations Security Council.” The letter has the support of many American Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which put out a statement strongly backing the measure Wednesday.

But some have taken issue with it. The progressive J Street lobby urged senators and representatives to amend the letter, or write their own.

“The sign-on letters now circulating in the House and Senate, while expressing strong American support for Israel – a position we endorse – fail to address the impact of the present closure of Gaza on the civilian population, the deep American interest in resolving this conflict diplomatically, or the urgency of moving forward with diplomacy before it is too late,” J Street writes. “By ignoring these critical issues in favor of a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions, Congress is serving neither the best interests of the United States or of Israel.”

Meanwhile, a number of Jewish groups – AIPAC, B’nai Brith International and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) intend to skip a meeting with members of the Turkish ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party).

“I believe in dialogue and meetings but there is a point at which it becomes useless to have a conversation,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman told Haaretz on Wednesday.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

9:18PM: A 17-year-old palestinian has been killed in an explosion in Hebron by” an unknown ordinance.”

Hebron police officer Col. Ramadan Awad said Wahid Rashid was working in his father’s scrap iron workshop when the hydraulic canister exploded.

The area was cordoned off and explosives experts were called to scene, saying the blast was likely caused by a mine.

Awad said an investigation has been launched and are treating the incident as an accident.

A mine? Riiiight.

3:32PM: Elton John is set to perform in concert tonight, in front of more than 50,000 people at the Ramat Gan stadium (unlike the plethora of other performers who have recently canceled, including Santa-Na, and Elvis Bordello)

As Elton posted on his website 3 weeks ago:

elton john“I have always believed that music inhabits a world set apart from politics, religious differences or prejudice of any kind.

“Throughout my career I have made a point of playing concerts in challenging places, such as the USSR and Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Israel in the 1990s and very recently Morocco. Every concert was an enjoyable event for us all and, as I found in Morocco just this last Wednesday, it is always a great experience playing to a new audience in a new country, getting a wonderful warm reception, and hearing the 30,000-strong audience singing along to lyrics that are not in their native tongue.

“Music is, and always will be, a universal language, free from boundaries. It can and does inspire unity and builds bridges between people, and I will continue to play concerts anywhere in the world where I can encourage that unity.”

3:24PM: Not all in Spain are pains. There are those who are sane with brains (sorry for that terrible rhyming attempt, I am busy and tired, a somewhat brutal combination).

José Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain, published an opinion article with the London Times Thursday saying the world must support Israel  because “if it goes down, we all go down”.

Aznar, who has joined the ‘Friends of Israel’ campaign to which David Trimble, a foreign observer taking part in Israel’s flotilla raid probe, also belongs, calls on Europe to refuse to put up with cries to eliminate Israel as part of global Christian-Jewish cooperation.

“In an ideal world, the assault by Israeli commandos on the ‘Mavi Marmara’ would not have ended up with nine dead and a score wounded. In an ideal world, the soldiers would have been peacefully welcomed on to the ship.”

Aznar also criticizes Turkey, to which the Marmara belonged, for placing Israel “in an impossible situation” in which it would have to either give up its security or face world condemnation.

The former prime minister calls on the world to “blow away the red mists of anger” and take a “reasonable and balanced approach” based on the fact that Israel was created by a decision of the UN and therefore unquestionably a legitimate state.

“Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. It is a dynamic and open society that has repeatedly excelled in culture, science and technology,” he adds.

However, he says, “62 years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment’s peace.”

Aznar says the real threat to the region is extreme Islamism, “which sees Israel’s destruction as the fulfillment of its religious destiny and, simultaneously in the case of Iran, as an expression of its ambitions for regional hegemony”.

“Both phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but also the wider West and the world at large,” he adds.

Aznar concludes by saying that Israel is the West’s first line of defense against the chaos set to erupt in the Middle East, and therefore must be protected.

“It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Middle East,” he writes. Some even act and talk as if a new understanding with the Muslim world could be achieved if only we were prepared to sacrifice the Jewish state on the altar. This would be folly.”

10:05AM: Separated at birth?

6:02AM: Photo of the day: The head of the PA’s Special Second Brigade talks to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as he arrives for the opening ceremony of their base in Jericho.

Salam Fayyad

AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media