BY HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
Jpost Correspondent in Washington
The chill in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara is resulting in a few cold winds blowing through Washington as well, though ties between Turkey and its traditional Western, pro-Israel backers haven’t reached the deep-freeze stage, according to several sources.
Several Jewish groups have historically worked closely with Turkey and its embassy here, seeking to foster Israel’s close relationship with a Muslim neighbor and strategic heavyweight in an otherwise hostile neighborhood, and at times these groups have lobbied Capitol Hill on the issues supported by Ankara.
On Armenia, for instance, some Jewish groups have pushed members of Congress not to pass resolutions labeling Turkey’s role in World War I massacres as genocide.
“Turkish hostility to Israel will naturally have ramifications when political issues regarding Turkey arrive on these shores. How could it not?” asked one Jewish leader in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Friends of Israel across the government and across the non-governmental sector will take notice.”
“People are not thrilled with Turkey at the moment,” agreed one source close to the Hill, but he added, “I have not heard of a major reorientation. That doesn’t mean people won’t reassess, especially if things get worse.”
Jewish organizational officials in Washington have conveyed their concerns to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, with one official saying that “those channels remain open.”
Jewish leaders have also been pleased that the Obama administration has taken up the issue, pressing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve the relationship during his December visit to the US capital.
The US State Department declined to comment for this story, as it involves sensitive relations between two allies.
Despite the US intervention, little has been seen to change on the ground, and indeed another round of flaring tempers exploded this past week, worsening relations further.
At the same time, another Jewish official pointed out, “The relationship with Turkey is bigger than Erdogan” and the current Islamic government. That government, led by Erdogan’s AKP party, has downgraded the historically close relationship between the two non-Arab countries cultivated by earlier secular governments.
But the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization with some of the strongest ties to Turkey, said it was encouraged by the appointment of a new ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, who last served as ambassador to Israel and before that as a liaison to the Jewish community in a lower-ranking post in Washington.
“I would like to think there was a certain calculation in sending him. The fact that he’s known in Washington, on the Hill, and that he’s worked with the Jewish community, which he served in Israel, I would like to think that that’s [one] way of sending a positive signal,” said Jess Hordes, director of the ADL’s Washington office.
“Our relationship with the embassy has been, and I think will remain, close,” he said.
He also said that on the issue of the Armenian massacres, the ADL’s position hadn’t changed.
“We continue to believe that there was a genocide, but there’s no useful purpose in the House or the Senate passing a resolution on it at this time,” he explained. “It’s a principled post that the better way of addressing this issue is for the Armenians and the Turks to move forward with this through the historical commission” that’s been established.
But he added, “We have expressed our concerns about some of the statements that the prime minister has made that have been unremittingly hostile to Israel. We have also urged them to speak out where there are TV series that are very provocative and promotes an atmosphere in that society where Israel and Jews are demonized.”
The latest diplomatic row was sparked by a television show that depicted Mossad agents as baby-snatchers, which led to a summons of the Turkish ambassador to Israel in a meeting designed to humiliate him by seating him in a low chair and without a Turkish flag. Israel later apologized for the breach in protocol.
The ADL sent out a statement earlier in the week charging that Turkey “is becoming increasingly and openly hostile to Jews and Israel – with harmful statements by government officials and hateful depictions in the mass media.”