Thursday, August 30, 2007

Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Denies Genocide

Pinhas Avivi (Photo: Israel MFA)

Pinhas Avivi, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Turkey, told the Turkish Daily News that while "a lot of people see what happened during the events of 1915 as a tragedy," "there is a great difference accepting it as genocide." According to Avivi, "genocide is a decision by a government to destroy a people" and “never ever has anybody proved that this was the situation in 1915.”

Given Israeli policy on the issue, there is nothing surprising about the substance of this proclamation. The frankness with which the ambassador distorts history, however, is rather embarrassing. American diplomats at least use circumlocutions (if they don't, they get fired) when they deny that "the events of 1915" constituted genocide.

It is clear that the Israelis are doing their utmost to reassure Ankara of their friendship. The Turks, on the other hand, continue to show signs of frustration and disappointment, blaming Israel for the momentous shift in policy on Armenian Genocide recognition by the ADL. At the same time, they are eager to hear some approval for their position. In the background loom the nearly $10 billion in bilateral trade and joint economic ventures between the countries, the entrenchment of the Islamist AKP in power with the recent election of Abdullah Gul to the presidency, and Israel's concerns about Turkey's Iran-policy. It is perhaps with these factors in mind, that we should read Avivi's responses to the Turkish journalist's query about the ADL controversy.

Clearly, Israeli diplomats are playing a complicated game with the Turks. While Ankara plays the rejected lover, the Israelis claim that they are being faithful. As part of this charade, Israeli officials up to President Shimon Peres are promising the Turks to "keep an eye on it" - in order to make sure that other Jewish organizations do not announce similar shifts in policy. Avivi even claims that "the impression we got from different Jewish organizations in Washington is that, the ADL's approach is not seen as the right approach." Given that the American Jewish Committee followed the ADL's shift in policy, I am not sure where this impression is coming from. Are the Turks buying the bull that Israel is feeding them?

I have to wonder, too, whether Avivi's efforts to kiss up to the Turkish public were entirely successful. Asked by Barçın YİNANÇ about antisemitism in Turkey, the ambassador says that he believes it is "weak" in Turkey:
On the governmental level, and as far as 90 percent of the newspapers are concerned, apart from the newspaper Vakit and one or two journalists, I never felt it (Turkish Daily News).
Reassured, the journalist notes that, "For some countries, it's such an issue that it requires the Israeli government to step in. Avivi tells him that “Anti-Semitism has never been an issue for us to be taken up on official level." The journalist, however, reminds Avivi of "false news report that Israel was reportedly buying land in Turkey" and "that conspiracy theories based on Zionism are quiet widespread." Aviv acknowledges that the embassy could have done more to reach out to ordinary people.

I have a hard time believing that there is less antisemitism in Turkey than in France or Germany, where Israeli government officials do not shy away from expressing fears about resurgent anti-Jewish expressions by the public.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Human Rights Watch on Hizbullah

Human Rights Watch has published a detailed report on Hizbullah's rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages during last summer's war. The report, "Civilians under Assault," includes a number of "case studies" describing attacks on a number of sites in the north. The conclusion is hardly surprising; according to the report,
Hezbollah forces in Lebanon fired thousands of rockets into Israel, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. Hezbollah’s means of attack relied on unguided weapons that had no capacity to hit military targets with any precision. It repeatedly bombarded cities, towns, and villages without any apparent effort to distinguish between civilians and military objectives. In doing so, Hezbollah, as a party to an armed conflict governed by international humanitarian law, violated fundamental prohibitions against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
Human Rights Watch has previously issued sharp condemnations of Israel's bombing of Lebanon, which led to the deaths of hundreds of Lebanese civilians. Hizbullah, it appears, is less eager for this latest report to become public knowledge in Lebanon. Earlier today, Human Rights Watch staffers reported that the group as well as the Lebanese government are trying to silence them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Turkey Expresses "Anger and Disappointment"

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül (Photo: Wikipedia)

Citing sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Ha'aretz reports that Turkey is pressuring Israel to compel American Jewish organizations to reverse their recognition of the Armenian Genocide. So far, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, perhaps the two most recognizable Jewish political organizations in the U.S., have publicly declared that the events of 1915 constituted genocide. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül expressed disappointment that Israel had not done anything to prevent these declarations, and talks between the Pinhas Avivi, the Israeli ambassador in Ankara, and Gül escalated to "unpleasant tones" [טונים צורמים] (Ha'aretz Hebrew).

The report is rather incredible, and reveals the bizarre spell that the phenomenon of Jewish diplomacy continues to exert on supposedly rational actors in the international state system. It appears that the Turkish Foreign Ministry truly believes in the existence of a cabal that initiates and enforces policies for all of world Jewry. The State of Israel now plays the role once attributed to the Rothschilds. I have always thought of Turkish diplomacy with respect to the denial of the Armenian Genocide as rather clever. Now it turns out that one of its guiding assumptions seems to have been the belief that American Jewish organizations take their marching orders from Jerusalem. I know that this thesis is popular among certain groups in the U.S. and elsewhere as well; the believers will hardly be persuaded by evidence to the contrary. The Turkish Foreign Ministry would do well to study the role played by Jewish groups in the American political system as well as the views of U.S. Jews on foreign and domestic policy, without the blinders of stereotypes about Jewish conspiracies.

The impact that the recognition decision of the ADL as well as the (characteristically) quieter AJC has made is astounding. In Turkey, government officials apparently "admitted that the ADL's shift in position was a setback for Ankara" (Turkish Daily News). Somehow, vast powers have been attributed to these Jewish organizations in the fight for and against House resolution 106, which would have the U.S. officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Criticism and Antisemitism

On a Facebook group called "ADL Should Acknowledge the Armenian Genocide," Jeremy Menchik from Wisconsin says:
The *immediate* purpose, Jewish interests, has always taken precedent [sic] over civil rights for all. Examples: the Sylvio Berlesconi [sic] affair, vocal support for the war in Iraq, persistent harrassment [sic] of mainstream Muslim-American organizations, the deliberate blurring of anti-zionism with anti-semitism in order to slander enemies, close cooperation with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, opposition to Affirmative Action, etc etc. The mistake in this discussion, therefore, is thinking that ADL would do anything *but* deny the Armenian genocide.
Is this antisemitism? Just wondering.

I thought this was apropos our discussion about the ADL brouhaha below, andI think that my question also touches on an earlier discussion I had with Redel and others.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anti-Defamation League in Hot Water over Armenian Genocide

A Jewcy Banner in a petition that calls on the ADL to recognize the Armenian Genocide

UPDATE: There have been some very interesting new developments, on which I have posted over on Genats-Lehayim. First, the ADL published an "open letter" maintaining their previous position. Today, Foxman finally retracted.

The municipal council of Watertown, Massachusetts, which together with Glendale, California is one of the major Armenian centers in the U.S., last Tuesday voted unanimously to pull out of the "No Place for Hate" tolerance-education program. The reason? The program is funded by the Anti-Defamation League, whose national board, the council alleges, has not been forthright in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Among other developments, the controversy has led to the firing of the New England Regional Director of the ADL, Andrew Tarsy, after he defied the national leadership of the organization and called on it to refer to the killing of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Now, some people are hoping that the scandal will lead to the "implosion" of the Anti-Defamation League and the sacking of its controversial leader, Abe Foxman.

One of the people who has been leading the campaign against the ADL is Joey Kurtzman over at Jewcy, who in a July post, Fire Foxman, "broke the news" of a February 2007 meeting between Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul and American-Jewish organizations, at which the latter allegedly agreed to oppose a House bill that would recognize the Armenian Genocide. For some thoughts on this meeting, see my post, "Recognizing the Armenian Genocide: Another Round."

I have very little sympathy for some of Kurtzman's other aims, which apparently include "the end of the Jewish people." Unlike Kurtzman, I hardly think the ADL is redundant. And while I can imagine how gratifying it is for a spunky, young Heeb to bash someone like Abe Foxman, I wish Kurtzman could have spared us the self-righteous universalist moralizing. Furthermore, Kurtzman's polemics against the ADL's anti-Mel Gibson campaign are a scandal, as is his pooh-pooing of antisemitism.

Nevertheless, I say mabrouk to the man for his spirited coverage of the Watertown-ADL controversy. To me, the whole episode illustrates something that I have repeated like a broken record on this blog: the American Jewish grassroots overwhelmingly support U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It's too bad that an excellent program, the ADL's "No Place for Hate," ended up being cut to send a message.

It is clear that there is a split between the grassroots and local leaders on one hand and the diplomatic activity of the larger organizations on the other. The directors are thinking geopolitics. When the Turkish foreign minister invites them to make a pitch for action against an Armenian Genocide resolution by Congress, they are not going to tell him "no" to his face, especially when he joins his plea to the status of the Jewish community in Turkey and to Turkish-Israeli as well as Turkish-American relations. The foreign policy departments of the premier American Jewish diplomatic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, are focused on the Middle East today; they are doing everything they can to keep Turkey on America's side, and at least somewhat close to Israel.

The question is whether historical truth, moral integrity, and diaspora Armenians should all suffer for the pursuit of these interests. I say pursuit because I am not convinced that being "neutral" on the Genocide issue - i.e., basically supporting Turkey's denialist status quo - is really furthering concrete interests on the ground. I have talked off-the-record to someone in one of the major foreign-policy oriented Jewish organizations in the U.S. , who supports the traditional line toward Turkey (on Genocide recognition and other issues), and I was surprised by the lack of flexibility and what seems to me unawareness of the dynamic situation we are facing in the region. It reminded me a little bit of Israel's reluctance to seize opportunities in Iraqi Kurdistan, on which Zvi Bar'el had the following to say in Ha'aretz recently:
Israel now fears that renewing the ties with the Kurds will harm its strategic relations with Turkey, which, as a matter of fact, is doing very good business with Kurdistan: Hundreds of Turkish commercial firms have investments there.

Nor does Israel want to clash with American interests. Washington views the Kurds' ambitions for a federation as an effort to undermine Iraqi unity - Washington's great goal. This is the same Washington that doesn't yet know who is a friend and who an enemy in Iraq, but is conveniently ignoring the Kurds and even their request for an American military base to be built in Kurdistan.
Note: this is an expanded version of my post on Genats-Lehayim.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Borat Must Go

The Kazakh film "Nomad" (2005)

The NYT published this story yesterday on the intellectual challenge that nomadism and tribalism in Central Asia and the Near East present to policy makers. Bronze Age archaeologist Michael Frachetti from Washington University argues that today's foreign policy failures in that region derive from a misunderstanding of the part played by tribe, clan, and a kind of vestigial nomadic culture in contemporary politics. Take Turkmenistan as an example. Sean R. Roberts, a central Asia researcher from Georgetown University, points out that the West underestimated the nomadic value of independence in seeking to pry the country away from the Russians in an energy deal. To say that nomadism adapts itself to modernity in sophisticated ways might sound to the casual observer like an academic's apology for a primitive way of life. And that is surely how many have viewed and will continue to view the non-sedentary. But sooner or later, you have to grapple with the dynamism of these social structures to achieve lasting political and military success in these regions.

This blog has often argued that US foreign policy community suffers from a deficit of knowledge in the Middle East, but the Times piece both expands on that conclusion in geographic scope and sharpens it. From Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan, one hears a lot these days about tribe and clan. The US in Anbar province in Iraq and the British in Helmand province in Afghanistan have both seized upon tribal leaders as key allies in stabilizing countries without an effective political center. A deeper commitment to understanding these cultures ensures that the military isn't just talking to the right people, it's talking to the right people in the right way. Quite frankly, one can't have much confidence in the American government on this score when one reads:
Yet, despite calls for a deeper appreciation of cultures far from the mainstream, “the United States government hasn’t been willing to pony up the money to educate” policy makers on “these areas with deep nomadic traditions,” said a Central Asia specialist working for the United States government. The official requested anonymity because he was not cleared to speak with reporters.

“It takes a half a million dollars and four or five years to train a specialist in these parts of the world,” the official said. “Even now we hardly have anyone up to speed about the border areas of Pakistan or the tribal politics of Somalia.”

This is frightening. Moreover, this revelation of ignorance lends an air of the surreal to the Democratic presidential aspirants' debates over hypothetical invasions of tribal Pakistan. (I for one feel that Barack Obama's ship is balanced precariously on the crest of a wave of no mean size after the senator's "robust" defense of his foreign policy credentials).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hundreds of University Presidents Denounce Boycott

Today's full-page American Jewish Committee ad in the New York Times, featuring hundreds of university presidents who have signed onto a statement by Columbia's Lee Bollinger that denounces the UCU's resolution to sponsor a boycott of the Israeli academy, pulls the rug out from underneath the feet of those planning a similar action in the United States. Kudos to the AJC for pulling this off.

Here is Lee Bollinger's statement:
At Columbia, I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate—as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their government’s policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Defense of Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman (Photo: Harvard Law School)

Harvard law Prof. Noah Feldman has come under fire for an essay he published in the New York Times Magazine. Feldman, an authority on international law and relations and a regular Times contributor, wrote an emotional account of his Modern Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Brookline Mass., where he attended Maimonides School, a yeshiva day school. The essay, "Orthodox Paradox," seemed more of a cathartic exercise for Prof. Feldman, who was deeply and understandably wounded by his schoolmates' and teachers' outright rejection after Feldman married a Korean-American, than a pointed analysis of the dilemma that modernity poses to the observance of traditional Jewish law. Now, the Orthodox Union, an American umbrella organization, is calling for the NYT to fire Feldman for a breach of journalistic ethics, calling him the "Jewish Jayson Blair," a reference to the serial fabricator who once worked at the newspaper! The controversy? Feldman begins his essay with an anecdote. After a high school reunion photograph is taken, he discovers that he and his then fiancée are missing from the final print. This exclusion is the jumping off point for Feldman's entire reflection. Unfortunately, it's also the most problematic bit of the essay. It appears that even before the article was printed Feldman had good reason to believe that the photographer did not manually remove him and his girlfriend from the photo. Feldman told The Jewish Week:
“When I first wrote it I was doing it from memory. When [the photographer] turned up the contact sheet there was no contradiction at all, as far as I could tell. They had several photos to choose from and they chose one that I wasn’t in. There’s no question that one could offer other explanations for what happened,” other than that it was intentional. “It’s not as if [the photo] was an outlying event. It fit right in with the other things [refusing to print his lifecycle notices]. This was a memoir of my experience.”
At a glance, the text of the article accords just fine with Feldman's explanation. There isn't any outright accusation of an early- to mid-nineties PhotoShop job, just the melancholy implication that the man was wronged. When Feldman confronts the photographer, nothing substantive is said, only a very muted of admission guilt. But guilt of what? Of excluding Feldman or of cropping him and Jeannie Suk out of the picture? It seems to me that Feldman's got a good case. But then again, I am the son of a law professor.