Last night, at the Living Legacy gala thrown by Chabad’s Washington arm, American Friends of Lubavitch, at the Mellon Auditorium in D.C., the countries represented read a little like the World Cup qualifier lineup: England, Denmark, South Korea, Australia, New Jersey (Tim Howard, represent!). The roster also included non-qualifiers like Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus—and, perhaps a little surprisingly, Turkey, which has, of course, been at odds with the Jewish state since Israeli commandos raided the Turkish-backed Gaza flotilla more than two weeks ago.
The delegation from Ankara included Murat Mercan, the head of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee and a senior figure in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party. As it happens, he also took part in the Gaza-bound Viva Palestina aid convoy earlier this year; since the Memorial Day flotilla raid, he’s been sharply critical of Israel and its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.
But last night, he said his problems with Israel had nothing to do with his feelings toward Jews. “Criticizing what the current government is doing does not mean criticizing the Jews,” Mercan told Tablet Magazine. “Jews are an essential part of the Turkish community, and relations between Turkey and the Jews will not be hampered in any way by the actions of the Israeli government.”
Mercan was in town for a few days on a diplomatic mission to address any negative impact on Turkish-American relations arising from the flotilla; his itinerary, he said, included meetings with White House officials, the State Department, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), one of the authors of pending economic sanctions legislation against Iran. His appearance at the Chabad dinner, he said, came at the invitation of a Lubavitch rabbi he met in Turkey a few years back. In other words, Mercan quipped, “It was God’s will that I be here!”
With that, Mercan hustled out the porticoed doors and into the muggy night. A pair of Chabad rabbis, curious, asked what he had said, and seemed pleased with the result. “So he listens to what we tell him,” one remarked, and then turned back into the colonnaded ballroom to see what was for dessert.