Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has again predicted that his country’s relations with Israel are about to get back on track. As he presented things, Israel has given in to all of Ankara’s demands – it has apologized for the 2010 Mavi Marmara clash, will soon compensate the “victims” and is supposedly softer on the Palestinians.
If relations are indeed on the upswing, though, what sort of a Turkey will Israel be getting chummier with? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not even pretend to be magnanimous in victory following last week’s local elections victories, which constituted a crucial test for his Justice and Development Party (AKP – Turkey’s loose equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood).
He not only passed the test but clearly took his country farther away from Western liberality and deeper yet into an intolerant orientation that contradicts Turkey’s fading European aspirations.
Hot on the heels of triumph, Erdogan was not the least constrained by politically correct niceties. He vindictively vowed to make sure that his opponents are “brought to account.”
“We will follow them into their lairs and thrash them,” he announced.
This should not be dismissed as so much pompous braggadocio.
Erdogan can be as callous as his boasts. After accusations of corruption surfaced against him, he blocked off access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, because his detractors used these social networks to spread their message.
His party’s electoral success, Erdogan maintains, constitutes exoneration from any allegations. Legal due process is superfluous.
Also, according to Erdogan, Internet censorship does not negate rights to free speech, because the media platforms he banned are “vile and immoral.” He blames them for the outbreaks of protests against him and has labeled them “the worst menace to society.”
This grates on the ears of secular urbanites who clearly could not muster the numbers to overcome Erdogan’s appeal to religious insularity and a vague “save Turkey from an international plot” catchphrase. It is doubly significant that he succeeded despite a rapidly failing economy, an increasing brain drain and emigration of the young and upwardly mobile.
Turkish democracy is in dire straits. In the wake of the corruption charges against Erdogan, numerous journalists were jailed, senior policemen were sacked and judges removed from the bench. The Erdogan-controlled parliament continues to churn out legislation that should send shivers down any democratic spine.
Among them is a law that prohibits giving emergency medical aid to anti-government demonstrators hurt in street clashes. Doctors who insist on their duty to care can be imprisoned for three years and destroyed financially.
None of this has elicited any expressions of ire from Washington or EU capitals. Erdogan’s excesses appear to go unnoticed while international criticism is focused on Israel.
Indeed, US President Barack Obama has held Erdogan up as a model for enlightened Islamic democracy and he has never retracted this characterization. Moreover, his administration has pressured Israel to apologize for having foiled Erdogan’s Mavi Marmara provocation and to pay compensation to the so-called victims.
Erdogan wins twice – both from having challenged Israel and manufactured a new enemy for Turkey as well as from having reduced Israel to seeming submission.
We must be exceptionally careful in our dealings with him.
Israeli knee-jerk instincts, though, are to lap up any remote indications of acceptance and a restoration of normalcy.
Thus this Passover, Israelis are returning in large numbers to vacation in Turkey, on the assumption that relations are on the mend. But is this truly the case? Erdogan’s latest tirades should ring alarm bells in Jerusalem.
How far can Israel bet on equitable and mutually beneficial ties with this region’s non-Arab Islamic countries? We have badly burned our hands twice.
Our first injury was dealt by Iran, once a great ally.
Shi’ite Iran is now the Jewish state’s most implacable antagonist and dangerously one with nuclear ambitions.
The style of Islamic rule in Sunni Turkey is radically different but the absence of rancorous ayatollahs should not blind us to Ankara’s zeitgeist. Wishful thinking is never an acceptable substitute for cool, hard assessment.