Turkish Diplomat from Brandeis Leaves Strong Ties with Israel, U.S.
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Turkish Diplomat from Brandeis Leaves Strong Ties with Israel, U.S.

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Islamist prime minister assumes control in Turkey. Turkey rebuffs United States on Iraq. Six Jews killed in synagogue bombings in Istanbul. Those 2003 headlines were guaranteed to chill the lobbyists, diplomats and Jewish community professionals who have carefully nurtured a Turkish-Israeli-American alliance.

Just three years later, however, there’s a consensus that the alliance is stronger than ever — thanks in no small part to Osman Faruk Logoglu, the unassuming Brandeis graduate who helmed the Turkish Embassy during a time of potential crisis in the relationship.

“What made Ambassador Logoglu successful is that he spoke not only English, but also American,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that leans pro-Israel. “It gave him a grasp of the country that in a time of crisis made him likeable and approachable, that made it go forward.”

Speaking last month just before the end of his four-year term here and of his career as a diplomat, Logoglu said the American Jewish community played a critical role in keeping the U.S.-Turkish relationship smooth.

“They are as committed to our relationship with the United States as we are to the relationship with Israel,” Logoglu told JTA. “We provide support and understanding to Jewish concerns as they provide support to us in matters of our concern in this country.”

As an example, Logoglu cited efforts by the Jewish lobby to head off Armenian-American attempts to get Congress to declare as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I.

Leaders of the Jewish community unanimously return Logoglu’s compliment.

“To have an ambassador of Turkey who was accessible and reached out was extremely important for our community,” said Dan Mariaschin, executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith International, who visits Turkey frequently.

“Everyone has nothing but enormous respect for the man,” agreed Barry Jacobs, director of strategic studies at the American Jewish Committee.

Logoglu forged a close friendship with Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to Washington.

“Ambassador Logoglu is deeply understanding of the importance of relations between Turkey and Israel and worked tirelessly to strengthen relations between Ankara, Jerusalem and Washington,” Ayalon told JTA.

The ambassador’s low-key, avuncular approach was crucial.

“He’s just a calm person,” Cagaptay said. “In a period of crisis a calm, well-anchored, extremely sophisticated personality really calms nerves.”

Mariaschin and others say Logoglu’s undergraduate years at Brandeis four decades ago helped establish his closeness to the Jewish community and lifelong friendships with American Jews. He also has a doctorate from Princeton University.

More crucial, however, was his steadfast adherence to the traditions of modern Turkey — secularism and a Western outlook — at a time of political upheaval in his homeland.

His presence here helped convince Americans that the ascension of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a politician once associated with Islamist causes, to the premiership in 2003 was not a threat to the alliance.

Whatever his politics, Erdogan’s ascension proved the resilience of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, Logoglu said, showing that it could thrive under a prime minister who had made outreach to other Islamic nations a campaign platform.

“The relationship, especially the military relationship, is very robust,” Logoglu said. “I get complaints from the U.S. defense sector because some tenders go to Israel.”

Trade between Israel and Turkey has grown almost 20-fold in the last 12 years to $2 billion annually. Turkey has taken a proactive role in midwifing the Gaza Strip to stability after Israel’s withdrawal a few months ago, providing Palestinian Authority police with non-lethal equipment and training and, in recent weeks, investing in the rebuilding of the Erez industrial zone.

Notably, Turkey and Israel are in close agreement on Syria. The Bush administration is openly contemplating the ouster of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad because of his support for Palestinian terrorism, his interference in Lebanon and his failure to contain insurgents filtering into Iraq from his country.

Israel and Turkey agree that Syria must be pressured to change, but fear that replacing al-Assad could make the situation worse.

“We should keep talking to Bashar Assad to press him with these demands,” Logoglu said.

A turning point in the relationship was Turkish reaction to the attack on Istanbul synagogues in November 2003, which killed six Jews and injured dozens of others. Erdogan was emphatic in emphasizing that the attacks, believed to be carried out by an Al-Qaida affiliate, were as much an attack on Turkey as they were on Jews. The prime minister reinforced that message with a visit to Israel last year.

“Turks and Jews have been friendly to each other throughout history,” Logoglu said, noting as an example the safe haven that Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition found in Ottoman Turkey.

That may be, U.S. Jewish leaders say, but Logoglu’s persuasion was critical in getting Erdogan to go the extra mile.

That was not always easy: The conservatives running Turkey did not always trust Logoglu, a modernist who said he will devote his post-diplomatic career to fighting for women’s rights in his homeland.

“It was not easy for Logoglu,” said a representative of an American Jewish organization who deals with Turkey. “Often I would get notice from the Turkish government for some visitor coming in before he did. But he kept his equanimity and his common decency.”

That was especially critical in smoothing relations with the United States after the Turkish Parliament, in an 11th-hour vote on March 1, 2003, banned U.S. forces on its territory from launching attacks on Iraq.

“He was able to help Washington understand Turkey, what Turkey’s concerns were about Iraq, which are so alien to us,” Cagaptay said, referring to Turkish apprehensions about the ascendancy of Iraqi Kurds and how that could inspire Turkey’s own restive Kurdish minority. “I think he was able to get through to Ankara the real environment and attitudes to Iraq policy in the run-up to the Iraq war.”

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