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Pro-Israel groups deny role in Cyprus bill

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Pro-Israel groups denied any role in passing a congressional resolution slamming Turkey for its alleged role in removing the Greek cultural presence in Northern Cyprus.

A report last week in Congressional Quarterly said the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for the nonbinding resolution passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 28 by voice vote.

Officials for all three groups denied any such role to JTA.

A spokesman for Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), a Greek American who initiated the legislation, would say only that "we did not seek support of any outside group, although many Jewish members of Congress cosponsored the resolution."

Four Jewish lawmakers are among the 27 sponsors. One is Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Another is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whose district has a strong Armenian presence and who routinely has taken on Turkey in his House career.

Another cosponsor, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Calif.), is of Greek-Jewish heritage. The House has more than 30 Jewish members. 

The Congressional Quarterly story cast what it said was pro-Israel support for the resolution as part of deteriorating Israel-Turkey relations in the wake of the 2009 Gaza war and Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Israel and Greece have enhanced ties over the summer, in part because Turkey recently canceled joint military exercises.

Bilirakis at a recent Washington conference promoting Israeli-Greek ties said such an evolution was natural, blaming Turkey for alienating both countries. But diplomats from Greece and Israel at the conference were at pains to say that enhanced ties would not be at Turkey’s expense.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a coup engineered by the ultranationalist junta in power in Greece at the time. The coup had threatened to remove protections for the island’s ethnic Turkish minority.

Atrocities occurred on both sides. Turkey removed Greek populations in the north, and Turks in the south moved to the Turkish enclave. The north declared independence in 1983 under Turkish protection. Only Turkey has recognized the entity.

International cultural groups have praised Cyprus for preserving Turkish cultural heritage, and have slammed Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities for not doing the same in the north, where international dealers are alleged to have removed priceless Byzantine artifacts.

Bilirakis’ resolution mentions only the Turkish invasion and not the coup by Greek ultranationalists. By focusing strictly on cultural heritage, it bypasses claims by both Turks and Greeks regarding recovery of civilian dead and of property.

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