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.