Israel Lobby Switch On Armenian Genocide

March 05, 2010 1:25 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Ha'aretz reports that Israel's ultra-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, believes the US embargo on Cuba is a good model for dealing with Iran.

Lieberman said Thursday that he doubted the United Nations would follow through with Western demands for harsher sanctions over Iran's contentious nuclear program, and urged the United States to impose its own embargo similar to the one it has held on Cuba for the last 50 years.

The 50-years part is quite telling.  The United States embargo on Cuba has utterly failed in every conceivable way, unless its goal was harming the people of Cuba and not the Castro government.  In fact, the news out of Havana this week was that Fidel Castro himself -- who has survived the embargo and 11 American Presidents -- is back in charge again, more than three years after supposedly relinquishing power to his brother Raul.

So the Cuba model is unlikely to scare the Iranian government much.  If a tiny and poor island 90 miles from Florida can survive US sanctions for 50 years, the huge and oil rich Iran, 6,000 miles away, should do even better.

Tom Garofalo, a consultant to the New America Foundation's U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, writes in the blog Havana Note, that Lieberman's position is utterly hypocritical.  

For starters, Lieberman believes that the Cuban model works best if it includes an international aspect, such that the United States would 'shun foreign firms that continue to do business with Iran.' That extraterritorial component was added to our Cuban Embargo in 1996 with the passage of the Helms Burton act. But, perhaps unbeknownst to Lieberman, it has been dutifully waived every six months since, at the behest of our allies.

Lieberman may also be surprised to know that one of the first countries to suffer the consequences of such a shunning would be Israel, a leading investor in Cuban agriculture. The USDA reports that Israeli capital has driven a reinvigoration of Cuba's citrus sector, to such an extent that an Israeli-Cuban joint venture now produces a third of the total citrus grown on the island. (Well, if they can make the desert bloom, why not Cuba?)"

No doubt, Lieberman does not know any of this.  He is basically illiterate on foreign policy matters.  And, even if he did, it wouldn't change his views.  Besides, he spends most of his time not on foreign policy but on avoiding indictment.  And that is the good news.  His tenure is likely to be short.

Of course, when it comes to foreign policy, hypocrisy is more the norm than the exception.

For example, yesterday the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Armenian genocide resolution.  That is the bill, kicking around for years, that recognizes the Armenian genocide as precisely that -- genocide.  The Turkish government has always strongly opposed the resolution, arguing -- unconvincingly, in my opinion -- that the slaughter of the Armenians occurred in the context of war and was not an attempt at their intentional eradication.

I never understood why the Turks care so much.  The current democratic Turkish Republic was not even in existence during the Armenian slaughter. It is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire under which the killing took place.  The current Turkish government is no more responsible for the Armenian genocide than the current German government is responsible for the Holocaust.

Nonetheless, the Turks vehemently oppose using the term "genocide" to describe the events of 1915.

And successive American administrations have deferred to the Turks by opposing Congressional bills "commemorating" the "Armenian genocide." 

It is no different this year.  The Obama administration lobbied against the resolution because it believed that enacting it would disrupt our relations with Turkey, a fellow NATO member and one of our most important allies in the Middle East.  It also argued that passing the bill now would disrupt negotiations now underway between Turkey and Armenia.

It passed anyway and the Turks immediately called its ambassador home.

But here is where it gets really interesting.  The following comes from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Associated Press of the Jewish world. JTA writes:

In the past, the pro-Israel community [i.e. the lobby], has lobbied hard against previous attempts to pass similar resolutions, citing warnings from Turkish officials that it could harm the alliance not only with the United States but with Israel -- although Israel has always tried to avoid mentioning the World War I-era genocide.

In the last year or so, however, officials of American pro-Israel groups have said that while they will not support new resolutions, they will no longer oppose them, citing Turkey's heightened rhetorical attacks on Israel and a flourishing of outright anti-Semitism the government has done little to stem.

That has lifted the fetters for lawmakers like Berman (Chairman Howard Berman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), who had been loath to abet in the denial of a genocide; Berman and a host of other members of the House's unofficial Jewish caucus have signed on as co-sponsors.

Get that.  The lobby has always opposed deeming the Armenian slaughter a genocide largely because Turkey has (or had) good relations with Israel. And the lobby, and its Congressional acolytes, did not want to harm those relations.

But, since the Gaza war, Turkish-Israeli relations have deteriorated.  The Turks, like pretty much every other nation on the planet, were appalled by the Israeli onslaught against the Gazans.  And said so. 

Ever since, the Netanyahu government has made a point to stick it to the Turks.  Most famously, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon seated the Turkish ambassador in a kindergarten chair during a meeting, and "forgot" to put a Turkish flag on the table alongside the Israeli flag.  He then called the Israeli photographers in and said to them in Hebrew (so the Turkish ambassador wouldn't understand), "The important thing is that they see he's sitting lower and we're up high and that there's only one flag, and you see we're not smiling."

News of that episode so enraged the Turks and humiliated the Israelis that Ayalon had to apologize three times, in progressively more abject terms, or face a rupture in Israeli-Turkish relations.

That battle is now being carried to Washington.  The Israelis are trying to teach the Turks a lesson.  If the Armenian resolution passes the House, it will not be for purely compassionate reasons, but rather, to send a message to Turkey:  if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington.

And, just maybe, the United States will pay it, too.