Almost a week after President Erdogan’s Washington visit, one of his most remembered meetings seems to be his meeting with American-Jewish leaders. This meeting was put at the top of Erdogan’s schedule, so that shown carefully to friend and foe how important it was. An opinion piece written by Louis Fishman, who teaches history in Tel Aviv, Istanbul and New York, at Israel’s liberal paper Haaretz, posed some difficult questions for American Jewish groups and leaders.
Fishman, in his piece titled “Dirty Deals,” notes that the political movement led by Erdogan now carry out a tsunami of human rights violations. He also asks whether Erdogan is trying to co-opt U.S. Jewish leaders to launder his reputation.
Fishman continues: “Despite all the bad publicity, the Turkish president received a very warm welcome from a coalition of U.S. Jewish groups and lobbies.” Present at the meeting were the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. These organizations are known as some of most effective American Jewish groups and lobbies.
This meeting comes only about one month after a similar meeting held in Ankara. Fishman’s goes on saying: “By meeting with Erdogan at such a low point, the Jewish organizations put out a strong message that they are willing to take sides in Turkey’s polarized political world and that the major clampdown on Turkish freedoms is not on the top of their agenda.
… if anti-Semitism in Turkey really was a burning issue for those U.S. Jewish groups, it’s ironic they sat down to meet the president who’s shutting down and sanctioning precisely those critical media outlets who speak out against hate crimes while the pro-government press is still free to spread anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.”
Current situation is likened to 1990s’ “Immoral” tradeoff (by Fishman) when Turkey known by its human rights violations was in a war with PKK. In exchange for Turkey bolstering ties with Israel, those Jewish groups would lobby on behalf of Turkey, one permutation being a pointed silence about the suffering of Turkey's Kurds. Almost “two decades later, Turkey is once again embroiled in a war with the PKK, and once again we see a tsunami of human rights violations executed.” And it seems like American Jewish groups once again seem ready to defend Erdogan in Washington in result of Turkey’s normalized relations with Israel and other interests that we for now are unaware of. By this, American Jewish leaders and groups for interests we don’t know exactly, may be ready to forget how Erdogan’s proxy media have been the center of anti-semitic waves for years, and how since Gezi (protests) they target Jews by Israel oriented conspiracy theories.
The relations between Turkey and Israel (and Erdogan and US Jewish lobbies) started going downhill at 2009’s Davos Summit. The Mavi Marmara crisis marked a new low point in these relations, which have not recovered since then. We used to see in those years of American Jewish lobbies’ and organizations’ heavy criticism towards Erdogan. Despite the strong headwind against AKP because of Jewish lobbying efforts, the AKP administration in big part protected its good relations with US administration, and the climate in Washington also, in big part, was in Erdogan’s favor until Gezi protests in 2013. In other words, the American Jewish lobbies’ power was not able to hit Turkey’s positive image hard enough in the West. American experts, American newspapers and also American administration did not change their opinion just because select American Jewish organizations lobbied against Erdogan or Turkey-Israel relations broke down.
Nobody wanted to get in the same frame with Erdogan
Now, on the other hand, Erdogan’s image is its at lowest point since he came to the office. This was witnessed firsthand in Washington by the whole world. He met with Obama on the margins of Nuclear Summit, but only one day later - perhaps because (Obama) couldn’t bear with him anymore - in a not at all Obama-like move, Obama publicly criticized Erdogan, and said that he (Erdogan) could lead his nation down a "troubling" path. This cold shower came only a day before Erdogan’s planned opening ceremony of the Turkish mosque which was planned a year ahead and showed effects there. None of over 50 world leaders in Washington for the Nuclear Summit wanted to participate the Mosque opening despite expectations. Neither Joe Biden nor senior level White House and State Department officials who work on relations with Muslim communities in US attended.
Washington’s important local paper - which is known by closely monitoring the Congress and US administration – the reputable RollCall.com’s John T.Bennett’s piece on Thursday pointed that President Obama’s “meeting with President Erdogan was one of those meetings purely for political reasons.” The US administration said: “The White House didn’t say much about the conversation, but made clear it was -- in diplomatic-speak -- an unofficial meeting, pointing out in a short statement that they chatted “on the margins” of the summit. Message sent. Message received?” That was the message sent to Ankara from the White House.
What are American Jewish Leaders avoiding?
I tried to speak with a representative from American Jewish Groups who met with Erdogan. For years, although American Jewish organization have not been very willing to speak, they wouldn’t be so stubborn as to not give any comments. ADL or AIPAC would have normally issued a press release. I couldn’t get a single Jewish lobby or Jewish Group leader to speak to me despite my efforts all week. I got no answer from groups and individuals present at the meeting, and still more silence when soliciting comment on Erdogan’s “charm offensive” from other effective Jewish leaders. Everybody is aware how toxic is the name of Erdogan. Erdogan is attacking all opposition, considering the press as an enemy, and burning the country for his presidential ambitions... All of these are known by those who follow Turkey and the region even a little bit. That is the reason why nobody wanted to get in the same frame with Erdogan in Maryland’s mosque opening. The mosque was opened just like a mosque that was built in any city in Turkey, with AKP ministers present.
The reason that those American Jewish people who were not very hesitant to speak up in the past are now doing everything to avoid speaking out should be because it’s not easy to defend Erdogan anymore. in a few words, they run away from the Erdogan subject for now. When relations with Israel get normalized, we will see whether these leaders will start defending Erdogan loudly and clearly or not. However it should also be known that in the last 7 years, the Jewish lobbies lost most of their wars; their biggest goal was to block the Iranian nuclear deal and they failed doing so, and the Palace (Erdogan) should form its expectations accordingly.
“Anti-semitism bread is eaten, now time to be friends with Jews again?”
Turgay Ogur, explained very well the approach Erdogan and his allies towards Israel and American Jewish Groups in his column in the Meydan Newspaper: ”You have eaten a lot of bread (got a lot of bang for the buck) out of anti-semitism. This helped to create strong alliances. People rallied behind you because of this. You have also gained votes from it. But what happened now? Your drowning in a swamp in the international arena made you believe that Israel and Jewish lobbies will rescue you. … Israel … cannot save Erdogan’s international image? This should be like a child’s play for them. (I tell you:) neither was your hatred against the Jews normal, nor is your sudden, pathological love for Israel.”
In reality, American Jewish people’s positive contribution to Erdogan’s and Turkey’s image very limited. However, the interests of those lobbies from Turkey can be very considerable. As I sent an email to one Jewish leader who insisted not to comment to me that they are failing the transparency test by rejecting to comment on any subject related to Erdogan. It seems like American Jewish groups, by thinking that there is no alternative to Erdogan, getting ready to put all of their eggs in Erdogan basket.
Hudson Institute Meeting followed by the Weekly Standard Meeting
A parallel track for Erdogan and AKP’s opening up to American Jewish leader sand groups conducted as another charm offensive by (Erdogan) ally journalists and authorities’ rapprochement efforts with Washington’s conservative, pro-Israel and hawkish/neocon teams.
First leg of this (rapprochement), as I wrote before, done by Lee Smith, who is known by his Israel centered writings and as a writer on middle east subjects, with his happy meeting (kaynasmak) with Genc Siviller groups in Istanbul. Smith later on penned pieces that have shown he understood and read Turkey’s every single issue from upside down, published in one of sister magazine of the Weekly Standard. Whether making up excuses for jailed journalists or the war between Erdogan-PKK, he confused issues one, after other. Later on, one or two of left overs from Genc Siviller adherents (yandas) participated in a closed meeting at Hudson Institute, an institute that AKP and its circles have been cursing for a decade or so (for attempting a coup to overthrow Erdogan.) An expert who was present at that meeting told me that there was not a single Turkey expert who is known to be followed, monitored (in DC) went to that meeting.
This week, once again the Weekly Standard (TWS) which is known as Neo-Con and pro-Israel magazine where also Lee Smith writes, organizes a meeting with “Turkish Institute of Progress” which is close to Erdogan Palace as its one of new arms in Washington. Considering that TWS’ invitees in big part would be pro-Israel, conservatives and Republican leaning, it appears again that AKP is playing to these circles in capital. TWS’ editor in chief is known one of leaders of Neo-con movements and also known for his defending the Iraq invasion, William Kristol and Fred Barnes. Knowing that these circles are extremely disturbed by Obama’s Russia, Iran and Syrian policies, there seems to be common points with AKP. There is no doubt that Palace, which does not have a lot of friends in capital, wants to open up in capital via TWS. It appears that organization like Seta, which is known as foundation or “think tank” now being taken over by organizations like Turkish Heritage Organization and Turkish Institute of Progress (in DC). Other contributors to TWS are neo-con pens like Elliot Abrams, John Bolton. For years, Erdogan and his allies attacked American Jews or whenever they are being attacked they made same circles (American jewish groups, neocons) as as targets; now It’s one of the comedy episodes seeing Erdogan and allies’ trying to create an alliance with them.
The title of the meeting is “Looming Threats to NATO’s Southern Flank: Russia, Armenia and the Path Forward” which will be held a place near Congress. Turkey’s opposition to Russia, bad relations with Iran and anti-Assad Syria policies seem to make these Washington circles forget the disagreements of the past.
It seems that there are “stability” and “security” oriented seeds thrown to make alliance in case a Republican Party has the next US Presidency. However, Republican Party’s presidential candidates are Donald Trump or Ted Cruz; considering Cruz’s islamophobic attitude such as “monitoring Muslim neighborhoods” or Trumps’ openly racist and anti-Islam attitude, it’s a mystery for now how they can agree with Erdogan. Despite all, it’s nomal (understandable) not to cut hopes with Erdogan who is known with his sharp U turns.