October 15, 2007

Turkey loses Jewish alliance

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eric Edelman, U.S. undersecretary of defense, is sent to Ankara for talks with the government.

Turkey fails to secure the support of Jewish members in the committee that gives the U.S. House the go ahead to vote on a resolution to recognize the events of 1915 as ‘genocide.

WASHINGTON - Turkish Daily News

Last week's congressional panel vote in favor of an "Armenian genocide" resolution has also underlined Turkey's failure to win the backing of the committee's Jewish members despite Ankara's focused efforts to woo those lawmakers and Israel.

Seven out of eight Jewish lawmakers in the 50-member Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Tom Lantos, the panel's powerful chairman and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, voted in favor of the genocide bill in last Wednesday's mark-up. The resolution calls for recognition of World War-I era Armenian killings in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late last week that she will bring the measure to a House floor vote before Congress' current session ends on Thanksgiving Day, which is Nov. 22 this year. In such a vote the resolution is expected to pass easily, as it already has 226 cosponsors in the 435-member House.

All eight Jewish representatives in the committee were Democrats, most of whom are involved in a major confrontation with the Republican administration over President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

Among them, the only one to vote against the resolution was Robert Wexler of Florida, cochairman of the Turkish Caucus in Congress.

Overall, the measure passed the committee 27-21 – 19 Democrats and eight Republicans in favor, and eight Democrats and 13 Republicans opposed – despite last-minute warnings from Bush and his top aides that the resolution would harm U.S. national interests.

The Lantos factor

Top Bush administration officials and Turkish leaders warn that Ankara may cut its assistance to the United States' efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the event the resolution passes on the House floor.

In addition to Lantos, a representative from California, Gary Ackerman and Eliot Engel of New York, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman of California, Ron Klein of Florida and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona voted for the bill among the Jewish Congress members.

For the Turks, the biggest dismay was Lantos' vote. In a long introduction at the opening of the mark-up, Lantos said: "We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn the historic nightmare through the use of the word 'genocide,' against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price [in Iraq and Afghanistan] than they are currently paying."

And when Lantos announced his vote, Turkish parliamentary deputies and diplomats present at the mark-up were shocked and angered.

This was the third time the same panel approved a genocide bill in the past seven years. But in 2000, former president Bill Clinton personally intervened at the last minute and prevented a House floor vote. And in 2005, the bill passed by the committee reached nowhere as then House speaker Dennis Hastert, a close ally of Bush, refused to bring it to the floor.

Lantos was the staunchest supporter of Turkey in the 2000 discussions of the genocide resolution. But in 2005, angered by the Turkish government's rapprochement with Syria and Iran, he voted for the bill "to punish Ankara" although he admitted that the Armenian killings did not amount to a genocide.

Jewish lawmakers unimpressed by Turkish lobbying

Egemen Bağıs, a top foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), criticized Lantos' stance, saying, "we have seen that his understanding of history is changing in time."

Despite the color of their votes, Lantos and Ackerman also sought to appease Turkey. Lantos said that he would soon introduce a resolution marking the U.S.-Turkish friendship. Ackerman said: "This has been tough for me... I'm a big fan and supporter of Turkey."

Turkish diplomats had made a major effort to urge the committee's Jewish members to vote against the resolution. Turkey also lobbied Israel, with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan recently visiting Yad Vashem, or the Holocaust museum.

After the Anti-Defamation League, a leading U.S. Jewish group, shifted its position on the controversy in August, recognizing last century's Armenian killings as "tantamount to genocide," Turkey said the resolution's eventual approval on the House floor could adversely affect its close relations with Israel.

But the panel vote proved that Ankara's warning did not impress the committee's Jewish members.

Among them, Sherman, Ackerman, Berman and Engel have consistently voted for genocide resolutions over the past seven years, while Wexler has consistently opposed the measures. Klein and Giffords, two junior lawmakers who are not among the latest measure's cosponsors, acted in line with the majority of their fellow Jewish congressmen.

The Bush administration strongly lobbied on Turkey's behalf before the vote, managing to persuade several Republicans to vote against the genocide measure. For instance, Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican member in the committee and earlier a strong supporter of the Armenian cause, voted against the bill.

In another interesting example, Luis Fortuno, a Republican representative from Puerto Rico, said he decided to vote against the resolution after Bush personally called him on his cell phone and lobbied in Spanish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Muslims Against Sharia commend House Democrats and Speaker Pelosi for pressing ahead with an Armenian genocide bill. Republican opposition to the bill is pure manifestation of moral relativism.
Muslims Against Sharia condemn Turkish government for refusing to acknowledge Armenian genocide and recalling its US ambassador in response to the bill.

Source: AFP