Hurriyet, Turkey
Jan 8 2010


The new Israel lobby: A shifting balance in Turkey-Israel-US relations?

Friday, January 8, 2010
Kaitlin MacKenzie


Over the past year, we have witnessed a series of events, from Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an's notorious outburst at Davos to
Turkey's withdrawn invitation to Israel for a NATO air exercise, which
have led to claims that Turkish-Israeli relations are declining.

Often, this assertion is made in tandem with charges that Turkey is
turning its face to the East, away from the West. But, when one
considers the state of Turkish-Israeli relations, one undoubtedly will
encounter the United States, as it considers both countries to be
important allies and is home to a large Jewish Diaspora.

The U.S. is known for its powerful lobby system, particularly the
oft-discussed Jewish organizations that have been the subject of much
discussion in recent years. Political groups such as the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and the Anti-Defamation
League, or ADL, some of the most powerful of their ilk, have long
commanded the attention of U.S. politicians and policy makers.

These organizations, particularly AIPAC, tend to toe a right-wing line
in staunch support of Israel. This has been the status quo for many
years in Washington. However, a new Jewish organization, J Street, was
established in 2007 to counterbalance AIPAC and has quickly come to
the fore, finding itself holding a seat at the negotiating table along
with AIPAC and other established institutions. Although this might
seem old-hat, what makes J Street special is that it promotes a
balanced Middle East policy under its motto `pro-Israel, pro-peace.'

This is big news for many reasons and could affect Turkey in several
ways. First of all, such an organization is unprecedented. In
Washington, unconditional and unwavering support for Israel's policies
has become almost guaranteed. Second, J Street is focused on a
comprehensive peace in the region and promotes a freeze on settlement
construction as well as a two-state solution.

These policies have been enough for the Israeli government and the
traditional Israel lobby to give J Street the cold shoulder. The
Israeli ambassador boycotted J Street's inaugural conference in
October, although the Jordanian ambassador came and delivered an
address, while the keynote speaker was National Security Advisor James
Jones.

(HH) What is the effect of lobby groups on Turkish-Israeli relations?

Turkish-Israeli relations go back to the foundation of the Jewish
state in 1948, when Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation to
recognize Israel. The two states have been partners in the region, and
some scholars argue that Turkey and Israel are the most similar to
each other in the Middle East, in terms of their relations with the
West.

Turkish-Israeli relations hit a highpoint after the 1997 Turkish
`post-modern coup,' and the two countries signed billions of dollars
in military contracts. But with the rise of the Justice and
Development Party, or AKP, in 2002, the extreme right in Israel and
American neo-cons found themselves in a panic over fears that the AKP
was secretly Islamist, anti-U.S. and anti-Israel. The extreme right
wing of both countries teamed up and launched a smear campaign against
the AKP, branding them anti-Semitic. Despite this rocky start,
however, Turkish-Israeli relations continued to prosper, and the
annual volume of economic relations is over $10 billion.

The AKP has focused on promoting its plan for regional integration and
stability, or the `zero problems with neighbors' policy, which of
course encompasses the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as well as problems
between Israel and its neighbors, especially Syria.

Turkey played the role of moderator between Syria and Israel and came
close to brokering a deal regarding the Golan Heights, but
unfortunately, the agreement was severely disrupted by last year's
Gaza War. Turkey, which had hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
only two days before the start of the war, yet was not informed of
Israel's plans, strongly condemned Israel's actions in Gaza.

The war has had a lingering impact on Turkish-Israeli relations and
was cited as the instigating force behind both the Davos incident and
the withdrawal of the air exercise invitation this past fall.

Turkish-Israeli relations cannot improve with Israel's current
policies, which is where the U.S. and its new J Street lobby enter the
picture. Many believe Israel might curb its actions if the U.S. were
to take a more assertive, less supportive stance. But this is
implausible at best, due to the powerful influence of the Jewish
lobbies.

One example of this is the United Nation's Goldstone Report, which
condemned Israeli actions in Gaza. It was targeted by a House
Resolution against the report's findings, and several pro-Israel
members of congress signed the resolution (which was of course
supported by AIPAC). J Street, however, came out strongly in support
of the report and pushed Congress to accept it.

Another area in which Turkey, Israel, and the U.S. lobbies collide is
the Armenian issue. In the past, Jewish organizations often lobbied on
Turkey's behalf against the Armenian diaspora's interest groups, since
Turkey was a staunch friend to Israel (especially militarily).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, J Street seems to avoid reference to the
Armenian issue, and instead limits its focus to issues that are
directly related to American policy toward Israel and the Middle East
that support peace in the region. According to its Web site, the `J
Street PAC does not interview candidates on ` and its endorsement
should not be read to imply support for their positions on ` any other
issue.'

In keeping with this policy, J Street gave financial support to
members of Congress both for and against the legislation that would
label the 1915 events as genocide: Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL/19th) and
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA/10th), chairs of the Turkish and Armenian
caucuses, respectively, both received campaign contributions from J
Street for their dedication to the Middle East peace process.

Thus, as we can see, to better understand the future of the
Turkey-Israel-U.S. triangle, we should perhaps take a look at some of
the key rising players. J Street's policies, while at times boding
well for Turkey, might also have an adverse effect.

Its like-minded policies regarding Middle East peace could very well
aid Turkey's efforts to obtain regional integration and stability, yet
whether J Street will stand up for Turkey's interests in Washington
remains to be seen.

* Kaitlin MacKenzie is a researcher at USAK, an Ankara-based think tank