ISTANBUL, Turkey – I stopped here in the land of the Sultans en route to Rwanda for the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, where I will be delivering a prayer at the national commemoration in Kigali. Many friends told me not to make the stop. Turkey is hostile to Jews and Israel, they said. Indeed, the day I traveled Israel issued a travel advisory for Turkey.
What I found was more nuanced. I visited southern Turkey last summer with Dr. Mehmet Oz and his family right after we toured Israel together, but had not been to Istanbul for 15 years. What a change. Back then you were hard pressed to find one woman with the Islamic hair covering. Today, it’s about one in three, with perhaps one out of seven wearing the full niqab.
Still, walking around with a yarmulke posed no problem and few, if any, were unfriendly.
The most jarring thing my son and I came across was a helpful receptionist at our hotel, a student at the University of Istanbul studying political science. Seeing us pray on the Sabbath he asked us if it’s true, as it says in his university textbook, that Jews believe themselves chosen by God to control the world, and are allowed to steal from, and murder, non-Jews in achieving that goal. We assured him that it was a horrendous lie, and he said he did not believe it, anyway. But many Turks, he said, were getting a negative impression of Jews because of the Mavi Marmara incident and the “ugly” Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The very next morning I awoke to Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times titled “Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend,” a scathing attack on Jewish mega-philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, whom Friedman says is a “foolhardy... crude right-wing pro-Israel extremist” who is “trying to destroy Israel.”
Damn, that’s vicious, I thought. What did Adelson do to be the target of such hatred? Well, according to Friedman he opposes references to the West Bank as “occupied territories” and is against America pressuring Israel to “trade land for peace.”
I have many Jewish and non-Jewish friends who strongly oppose building settlements in the West Bank and believe Israel should withdraw completely to the 1967 Green Line. But few have gone so far as to revile those who disagree with them as allies of a regime that calls for a second Holocaust, stones women to death, hangs gays from cranes and has snipers shoot peaceful protesters in the streets.
That Friedman could actually publish that is shocking. That he could say it about the world’s foremost supporter of Jewish groups like Birthright is downright shameful.
It is always puzzling when one party goes to an extreme in order to label another an extremist. But such fanatical, unprofessional, out-of-control conduct is hardly what one would expect from a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist.
There are many reasonable, educated, moderate people who disagree with Friedman’s easily refutable belief that Israel is today being delegitimized and subject to BDS because of the “47-year-old occupation of the West Bank.”
I could cite the fact that Jordan “occupied” the West Bank between 1950 and 1967, and Egypt did the same with Gaza, yet neither was delegitimized or sanctioned for it. I could cite the fact that Hezbollah originally declared it was opposed to Israel’s “occupation” of Southern Lebanon, but continues to fire rockets and murder Israelis and Jews years after Israel unilaterally withdrew from its security zone in 2000. Most importantly, I could quote from Mustafa Barghouti, the founder of BDS himself, who is adamant that the campaign against Israel will continue even if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, until it cedes all Palestinian lands, meaning the whole of Israel.
But the strongest case against Friedman’s argument that Israel “should be doing everything it can,” including “acting unilaterally to get out” of the West Bank, lest it become an international pariah, comes from the country I just visited and the young man I just met.
Turkey was just a few years ago Israel’s greatest Middle Eastern friend and ally. And what do they cite as the principal reason for their newfound hostility? Not the West Bank, but Gaza, a territory in which Israel followed Friedman’s advice to the letter, withdrawing unilaterally in 2005 and leaving not a house standing, a resident living, or a soldier guarding.
The rest is history.
Gaza, in short order, was taken over by Hamas, with its genocidal charter against Jews everywhere. The terrorist organization then used the highest per capita international aid ever delivered to buy rockets and bombs which they’ve continuously fired into Israeli cities. Israel had no choice but to enforce a naval blockade as a necessary measure of basic self-defense, which Turkey rejects.
There is absolutely zero occupation or settlements in Gaza, but that does not mean it isn’t used to delegitimize Israel with its foremost (former) Middle Eastern ally.
Friedman wants others to share his loathing for Adelson because the philanthropist opposes the great sage’s desire for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. But not everyone is yet ready to trust Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while he continues to name public squares after terrorists. Not everyone is prepared to put faith in the PA while it pays $50,000 to each terrorist freed from Israeli prison. Not everyone is prepared to trust in Abbas while he indefinitely postpones West Bank elections, which are now five years overdue. And not everyone is prepared to embrace Abbas’ promise that he can control Hamas when he has not visited Gaza since 2006 because he fears for his very life should he do so.
One thousand Israelis (the relative equivalent of 70,000 Americans) were blown up after the Oslo accords and Arafat’s rejection of Ehud Barak’s 2000 Camp David offer of 97 percent of the West Bank. Abbas then declined Olmert’s 2008 offer for 98% of the West Bank and the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Reasonable and rational people have every right to remain skeptical about “land for peace” without Tom Friedman claiming they are as evil as Iran.
The author, whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the only rabbi to have won the London Times Preacher of the Year competition and is the international best-selling author of 30 books. In May he will publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. His website is www.shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.