WASHINGTON (Feb. 25)
Turkey’s chief foreign policy emissary was sorely mistaken if he thought that the American Jews sitting around a table with him last week were there to compliment his government’s increased military cooperation with Israel.
One by one, the eight Jewish officials gathered at the Turkish Embassy ticked off recent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements by senior Turkish officials and in the media.
Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s minister of state with close ties to the prime minister, listened patiently at the one-hour session, which was arranged by the American Jewish Committee and attended by representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“We certainly got our message across,” said Jason Isaacson, director of the AJCommittee’s office of government and international affairs.
The meeting came at a time when Turkish society is wrestling with the thorny question of whether to maintain its secular traditions or move toward an Islamic state. Last year’s election saw the rise of the highest ranking Islamist to government, Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.
Erbakan’s embrace of Libya and Iran has further fueled concern over the direction of the country.
At the same time, however, Turkey has continued on its path of warming relations with Israel. This week a high-level Turkish delegation visited the Jewish state to strengthen Israeli-Turkish military relations.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said after meeting with the Turkish chief of staff that military cooperation would deepen through bilateral strategic contacts and joint maneuvers.
Although Erbakan’s government, which shares power with the secular True Path Party, has been more open to Israel than many had feared, some Jews are worried about the overall atmosphere.
“None of us left the meeting confident that this government will make the gestures, statements or take the actions necessary to alleviate the concerns about the growing climate of intolerance,” Isaacson said.
Since his election, Erbakan has blamed Turkey’s economic woes on “the Wall Street Zionists who control western imperialism,” according to a report in The European newspaper.
Prior to his election, Erbakan’s Welfare Party platform promised to end “world imperialism and Zionism as well as Israel,” Reuters reported last year.
The Milli Gazete, Erbakan’s party paper, published a column discussing the “nature of the Jew.”
“When you treat them humanly, you have to expect them to act like an animal,” the December 1996 column states.
“A snake is assigned to market its poison, just in the same way a Jew is assigned to create mischief.”
When confronted with these statements, Gul asked the group to “focus on the positive aspects of Turkey’s relations with the United States, the West and Israel,” Isaacson said.
Gul also told the group that “Turkey is a big country and things will be said that are really minor and we shouldn’t dwell on them,” according to Isaacson.
Gul’s reassurances did not satisfy the concerns of those in the meeting.
The anti-Semitic statements “have not been denounced by the government other than a bland reassurance to American Jews sitting around a table at the embassy that Turkey is a tolerant society,” Isaacson said.
Upset with Gul’s response, American Jewish groups will continue to press the issue with Turkish officials. The ADL plans to send a delegation to Turkey next month.