The news is that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dispatched a personal emissary here with an eye to negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas – reportedly with Hamas’s avid blessing.
Concomitantly, Israel has allowed Turkish humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip via Ben-Gurion Airport.
This presumably will set aside Turkish threats to instigate a rerun of the 2010 Mavi Marmara provocation. Yet it could be seen as another example of Israeli submission to intimidation. Official Israel had already gone so far as to apologize and offer reparations for the Marmara incident.
It might of course be argued that states must juggle critical interests that override common considerations of pride. It may be argued that Israel must maintain at least informal channels of communication with Hamas. It might be argued that national self-respect is extraneous in geopolitical sparring and international power plays.
Until Erdogan’s rise to power, Turkey was our sole reliable ally in the region and cooperation flourished to mutual advantage. Loath to lose all that, Israel was ready to swallow its national pride to salvage something of the vanishing alliance – this despite Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliations and vituperative outbursts against Israel.
For a while it appeared that relations were tenuously on the mend. Israeli vacationers even started returning to their favorite Turkish resorts.
But then came the latest confrontation with Gaza.
Although Erdogan postures as a cease-fire sponsor, he took no pains to conceal his backing for Hamas and his antagonism to Israel. His mildest castigation of Israel is dubbing it a “terror state.” Erdogan repeatedly and frequently draws analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany. He railed that Israel was perpetrating a “systematic genocide,” no less, against Palestinians and that Israel “has no conscience, no honor... Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
Even MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) somehow aroused Erdogan’s ire; he equated her with Hitler.
Such vilification is not without resonance in Turkish society and is indistinguishable from incitement. Turkish politicians attempt to outdo each other in bashing Israel, as does much of the press. This does not augur well for the country’s remaining 17,000 Jews.
Yeni Akit, a pro-government newspaper based in Istanbul, recently demanded a collective apology from Turkish Jews for Israel’s alleged sins. Popular singer Yildiz Tilbe has won accolades for Tweets such as “God bless Hitler” and “Muslims will bring the end of those Jews. It is near, near!” Among her staunchest supporters is Ankara’s mayor, Melih Gökçek, a member of Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party.
Riots targeting Israel’s embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul led to a sharp cutback in diplomatic staff.
Some 3,000 Israeli tourists had to be airlifted back home after Turkish Airlines halted its flights to Ben-Gurion Airport. Given the noxious atmosphere in Turkey, this was billed as no less than a rescue mission. Israelis practically had to hide in Turkish terminals and refrain from speaking Hebrew to one another so as not to betray their identity.
All this should send a powerful message to ordinary Israelis, one that need not mesh with officialdom’s expediencies.
Ordinary Israelis should give up on Turkey, at least while it is under Erdogan’s sway. Tourists should stay away and understand that any Israelis who choose Turkey as their vacation destination should not count on another rescue mission.
Israeli generosity in granting Turkish Airlines landing rights is not reciprocated. Turkish Airlines is Ben-Gurion’s most active foreign carrier and this too ought to lead to a grassroots rethink. Given the hostility of the administration in Ankara, average Israelis have only their pride to gain by standing firm and reevaluating the purchase of Turkish products.
We can do what our government perhaps cannot.
Fawning will not earn us friendship.
Ankara’s Tel Aviv embassy lowered its flag to halfmast for three days to “mourn the innocents slain by Israel in Gaza.” This is nothing less than diplomatic provocation. That Turkey’s provocateur-in-chief aims to garner glory by parading as an honest broker demonstrates colossal gall.
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