WASHINGTON (JTA) — A key Jewish lawmaker urged passage of a resolution recognizing the Ottoman genocide against Armenians.
The endorsement by U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, at the outset of his committee’s hearing Thursday reflected growing Jewish, pro-Israel and congressional distancing from Turkey because of recent tensions with Israel.
"Turkey is a vital and, in most respects, a loyal ally of the United States in a volatile region," Berman said. "We have also been a loyal ally to Turkey, and should continue to be so. Be that as it may, nothing justifies Turkey’s turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian genocide."
Such language is unusually blunt. 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 — although Israel has always tried to avoid mentioning the World War I-era genocide.
In the last year or so, however, 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.
That has lifted the fetters for lawmakers like Berman, who had been loath to abet in the denial of a genocide; Berman and a host of other members of the House’s unofficial Jewish caucus have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill is a victory as well for lawmakers from California, the home of a substantial Armenian community. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House speaker, is known to sympathize with the resolution’s sentiments, although she has kept it from making it to the House floor for a full vote.
The nonbinding resolution would not carry legal weight, but would set a precedent for U.S. officialdom to use the word "genocide" in describing the massacres. Turkey slashed ties with France for a few years after its legislature passed a similar resolution.