Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) on Sunday urged Israeli vacationers to boycott Turkey to protest that country’s apparent designation of Israel as a central threat in a policy document.
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His statement, the latest in the rhetorical war between the two countries, came in response to press reports that the Turkish National Security Council (NSC) had warned that Israeli actions threatened the region and the country, because of the regional unrest it caused.
All the reports quoted unidentified Turkish media and gave slightly different variations of the document. The reports said Iran and Syria had been removed from Ankara’s threat list.
A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said the ministry “has not and will not” address the contents of “the confidential document prepared by the NSC,” cited by the Israeli press.
The Turkish official called the Israeli media reports “nothing more than speculation.”
But Meseznikov took the report seriously and blamed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has increasingly been at odds with Israel.
“Erdogan is harming the relationship between our two countries with his statements. I think that if more people choose to stay away, then maybe he will get the hint.
Turkey should be completely boycotted from a tourism perspective.
We have to maintain our national pride,” said Meseznikov, at the entrance to the weekly cabinet meeting.
“There is no hostility between our peoples and the relationship with Turkey is important. I hope that it returns to its former levels, as it was prior to the Erdogan era,” said Meseznikov.
He added, “but as long as he [Erdogan] continues making these kind of statements, there is nothing for us to do in Turkey.”
Israeli relations with Turkey have deteriorated over the last few years. Tensions between the two countries were particularly high over the summer, after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals aboard a ship participating in a flotilla that sought to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
A government official told The Jerusalem Post
that Israel did not want to get into a “war of words” with Turkey, but that it was concerned by the country’s behavior, even as it held out hope that its relationship with Turkey could improve.
Another source told the Post
that if the report were true, Ankara had taken one more step away from the Western values in favor of the axis of extremist countries in the Middle East.
Someone who replaces Syria and Iran with Israeli policy as a central threat, had to have weighed carefully the logic and significance before making such a move, the political source said.
“What has been reported with respect to the document provokes great sorrow and disappointment, but it does not change our view that Turkey can benefit from its relationship to the West and Israel,” said the source.
Israel is interested in effective dialogue with a Turkey which can be a true bridge between the West and a rational Islam, and not a Turkey that writes extremist documents in Ankara with “a hidden hand,” said the source.
Anat Lapidot-Firilla, who teaches Turkish foreign policy at the Hebrew University, said that the Turkish NSC document was not an operational one, but a reflection of the new Turkish foreign policy and security doctrine.
Turkey has changed both its self-perception and the way it wants to position itself in the region, she said.
From 1996 to 2004, Turkey believed that good relations with Israel was a necessary part of its alliance with the West, and in particular with the United States, she said.
Now it still wants to be part of the West, but it wants the West to change.
“There is a need to put Israel in its place, to show that the West is not ignoring the Muslim world and that there are consequences as long as Israel is not obeying international rules and laws,” said Lapidot- Firilla.
It truly believes that Israel is a threat to regional security, because the Palestinian issue fuels extremism in the Muslim world, she said.
Still, not all parts of Israeli- Turkish relations are suffering.
Trade between the two countries rose more than 20 percent in the first nine months of 2010 compared with a year earlier. But tourism, in contrast, has dropped significantly.
Workers unions, whose members once made up a bulk of the travelers to Turkish coastal resorts to take advantage of the all-inclusive packages, canceled all their reservations to Turkish hotels in 2010, and tourism operators who once sent their clients to Turkey are now sending them to places like Greece, Cyprus and Eastern European coastal destinations.
So far, in 2010 an estimated 100,000 Israelis have entered Turkey, compared to more than half a million in 2008.AP contributed to this report.