March 2, 2007

Leaders Did Not Applaud ZOA’s Criticism of Abbas

A February 16 article reports on a meeting between Richard Jones, America’s ambassador to Israel, and participants in a recent Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations mission to Israel (“As Capitals Cautiously Greet Palestinian Deal, Israel’s Allies in D.C. Push for Pressuring Hamas”). In the article, Zionist Organization of America head Morton Klein is quoted as saying that all his fellow participants “broke out in applause” after he lectured American ambassador Richard Jones about extremism in the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas.

This is patently false.

Immediately following this episode, I approached the same microphone and told Jones that he should not leave the hall with the wrong impression, and that there were numerous American Jewish leaders in the room who supported the important diplomatic activity undertaken by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seeking progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Since I did not have a “Clap-o-Meter” handy, I cannot tell you who received more applause from the mission attendees. I can, however, share that participants thanked me for speaking up.

The article raises an important point regarding the impression both American and Israeli political leaders receive about the attitude of American Jews regarding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian territorial question. While the Presidents Conference is only one venue for such exchanges, I can attest that during our recent mission in Israel we met with a Who’s Who list of Israeli politicians, military officials, analysts, academics and journalists, and I was quite honestly taken aback by the constant barrage of pointed and sometimes inappropriate comments and questions raised by some of the far-right participants.

It is incumbent upon more moderate voices in the Jewish community to speak up so that leaders on both sides of the ocean hear what I believe is the majority voice of the American Jewish community.

Turks Have Protected Jews for Centuries

Many history scholars disagree with describing what happened in eastern Asia Minor during the closing days of World War I as the “Armenian genocide” (“Despite Ankara’s Entreaties, Groups Stay Mum on Armenian Genocide Bill,” February 23).

The deaths in that period were a consequence of the Armenian rebellion against the Ottoman government. Armenians enlisted and supported the occupying Russian enemy forces in the invasion of Ottoman lands, in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenia. They massacred the local Muslim Kurdish, Circassian, Turkish and Jewish inhabitants during and after the Russian invasion.

When Russian forces pulled back, there was a backlash from the mistreated and massacred local people, and many Armenians and Muslims were killed during this civil strife. The Ottoman government had to relocate the remaining Armenian population to another location within its territories in order to save them from certain total annihilation and provide strategic security against more Armenian reprisals were the Russians to come back.

The official Ottoman, Armenian and Allied archive records conclusively document that the total number of Armenians who were relocated was about 700,000, and more then 390,000 of these reached their final destinations. Some escaped to Russia, some to the Caucasus, and others to France and South and North America. Therefore, the total number of Armenian lives lost due to killings, disease and hunger was significantly fewer than 200,000 — and certainly fewer than the ridiculous figure of 1.5 million claimed by some Armenians activists.

It is a shame that American Jewish organizations are choosing to listen to these Armenian stories instead of supporting the Ottomans and their successors, the Turks.

Turks have always protected Jews. In 1326, Sultan Orhan permitted the building of the first synagogue in the original Ottoman capital, Bursa. In 1492, Sultan Beyazid II opened his empire to Sephardic Jews after they were expelled from Spain and Portugal. In 1941 a Turkish diplomat helped save more than 2,000 Jews from certain death during the German invasion of France.

And today, it should not be forgotten, Turkey is the only Muslim country that recognizes and has friendly relations with the State of Israel.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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March 2, 2007

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