Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Intern Blog: “Friends and Potential Friends” By Graham Rotenberg

At CJPAC, “field trips” and spontaneity are commonplace. Be it visiting venues for different events or all-staff renditions of “Gangnam Style”, CJPAC is always doing something fun and interesting.

During my second week at CJPAC, a unique opportunity presented itself to a colleague of mine late one Sunday evening.  She was invited by a friend who works for the Atlantic Council of Canada to attend an exclusive speaking event featuring the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, as the keynote speaker, Aware of my personal interest in foreign policy, my colleague invited me to join her at the speaking event which she was attending in an unofficial capacity.  I didn’t hesitate for a moment before accepting her offer knowing that the opportunity to hear a foreign dignitary discuss international relations in a closed setting would likely not come again soon.

I arrived at the event feeling a mixture of excitement and curiosity.  I had never been to an event like this before and was unsure of what to expect. Questions formed in my mind; would the Minister be candid in his discussion of Turkish-Israeli relations? How would the crowd respond? Would his comments ring true for me as a Canadian and a pro-Israel advocate?

Scanning the audience that had gathered, I recognized faces from the news and campaign signs.  It was an exciting moment – one where I felt a part of something bigger than just my immediate community.

The Ambassador was delayed. The room went silent at the 10:00 AM scheduled start time; despite, the Ambassador having yet to appear. When Mr. Davutoğlu arrived, he was accompanied by a massive entourage. He began his prepared speech, outlining his vision of Turkish foreign policy and his aspirations for the future of his country’s international relations.  Specifically, he noted that Turkey’s goal is to reach out to nations — forgetting past strife and opting to sign free-trade agreements and opening more international embassies to promote business abroad.

He went on to criticize the Canadian government for failing to invite Turkish leaders to Canada since 1998 — noting Turkey’s convivial relationship with Brazil and other countries. He contended that Turkey views the world as comprised of “friends” and “potential friends” and that Turkish-Canadian relationship should be enhanced.

The Minister next outlined his policy, originally envisioned by Turkish founding father Kemal Attaturk, for “peace at home, and peace with the world”. He stated that Turks will always be on the right side of history — citing Turkey’s response to the current Syrian civil war as a recent example.

For me, the most interesting portion of Mr. Davutoğlu’s speech was when he discussed his views on the State of Israel. What I heard was shocking. His statements on Israel, in my opinion, were contradictory of his previously described vision of Turkish foreign policy. Only minutes before, he had described outreach as a central Turkish goal as well as ensuring that Turkey remain “open for business” with all current and potential ‘friends’. Despite this amicable approach, he was remarkably critical of Israel.

He stated in order for Israel and Turkey to improve their relations, Israel must first apologize for the famous Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, make amends by compensating the families of the Turks killed aboard and, finally, end the naval blockade on Gaza. Furthermore, he described the death of the Turkish activists as ‘murder’, a clear misrepresentation and violation of the truth.

Hearing an invited foreign dignitary make these kinds of allegations against Israel taught me much about what the Jewish State must face; constant misrepresentation of facts, double standards and the intentional exclusion of context by neighbour states as well as foreign ‘allies’.  I realized as I listened to Mr. Davutoğlu speak that ensuring that Israel is well represented and supported across partisan lines is paramount and that the work that CJPAC does is of the utmost importance.

Though we attended this speaking event in an unofficial capacity, while there, I developed a sincere appreciation for what my colleagues do to ensure fair and balanced representation of and support for a vibrant Jewish state.

I have learned a lot of the past month and a half at CJPAC and look forward to keeping you informed.

Until next time,

Graham