One Monday morning, as I walked in the Mount Scopus library, my boss called:
“Hello, Uri, good morning. Listen, some of our Israeli employees in Ankara were
evacuated and I need a technician there tomorrow morning, can you go?” Without a
moment’s hesitation, I said yes.
It was a couple of days after the
flotilla takeover and the news depicted a Turkey on fire, burning with hate and
hostility toward Israel. I did not really know what I was going to encounter
when I landed.
Heading to the airport, I was picked up by an old taxi
driver, the type who has already seen everything. I think even he was surprised
for a moment when I told him I was flying to Turkey, but he quickly relapsed and
asserted: “Poor Turks, their religious types just kept breeding... You’ll see,
we’ll get the same thing with the Orthodox here in 15 years.”
silent, as we were passed by a group of yeshiva kids outside Romema, once a
stronghold of secular Jerusalem.
I stayed silent in the airport and on
the plane. At the terminal, I was picked up by a Turkish driver, escorted by one
of the Israeli security personnel.
“So... how are things? A huge mess?” I
“What, here? No, not really,” he answered. “The Turks,
they don’t really care.”
JPOST VIDEOS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
That couldn’t be right, I thought to myself.
But, as we drove to the embassy, I learned from the driver crucial facts that go
unreported in our sensationalist media. Ankara, Turkey’s capital, is home to
more than 4.5 million inhabitants. At the post-flotilla demonstration outside
the Israeli embassy, only 1,000 Turks participated. Twice that number showed up
a day later to protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv. Moreover,
according to the Ankara police, the 1,000 Turkish protesters received about 20
TYL ($15) each from the AKP.
WHILE IN Ankara, I enjoyed a window into the
heart of secular Turkey. Turkish villagers tend to be conservative and
anti-Israel, but the secular urban population isn’t. I spoke to as many Turks as
I could and discovered that both the rich and poor in Ankara are fairly friendly
to Israel and quite hostile toward the AKP.
I was struck by the
consistency of opinion across socioeconomic lines: A belief repeated to me by
students, police and hotel bellboys was that the current crisis is temporary.
One woman pointed out to me that Turkey and Israel have been through much worse,
noting the 1982 withdrawal of Turkey’s ambassador for many years after the
annexation of the Golan Heights.
Ankara’s streets showed no great love
for Iran. A driver commented that Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran share a deep
hate. With a history of mutual conquest, war and occupation, the two great
non-Arab Muslim peoples have kept alive old enmities.
A review of local
media also gave a narrative markedly different from the one in Israeli
newspapers. A range of domestic issues, predicated on growing disillusionment
with the corrupt CHP, Kemal Ataturk’s founding party, drove Recep Tayyip
Erdogan’s electoral success. AKP’s Islamic identity played a far less
These voices are not heard because of the Turkish
cultural attitude against dissent, and because of active measures by the
government to silence critics. YouTube, Google Translate and Google Books are
all under restrictions ranging from partial to complete. There are almost no
independent think tanks left in Turkey, and even the army is actively
But, even the fairly sympathetic secular Turks I encountered
saw Operation Cast Lead as a turning point, not out of sympathy for
Palestinians, but out of a sense of damage to Turkish honor and interests. Prime
minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Ankara, three days before the initial attack in
December 2008, is perceived as an enormous insult. According to the local
narrative, Turkey is interested in utilizing its uniqueness as a cultural bridge
to broker peace in the Middle East. The lack of minimal coordination by Olmert
with the Turkish leadership was taken as a blunt and direct disregard of honest
OUR TOP diplomat, Avigdor Lieberman has estimated that
the Israel- Turkey relationship has effectively reached its end. Turkey,
Lieberman argues, is going through “deep cultural, demographic transitions,”
which make it a lost cause. Despite our $2.5 billion of annual trade, Turkey is
simply on the other end of a civilizational fault line that cannot be bridged.
But even if Lieberman is right, and the views expressed to me in Ankara
represent a dwindling minority, we can still navigate this crisis
We need to understand Turkey’s sensibilities, especially honor,
and its attempts to serve as an independent broker between East and West. Even
in Ankara, Turks expressed this in their defense of Turkey’s attempts to broker
a deal with Iran. They felt Turkey offered a unique solution, which was
torpedoed by American and European stubbornness in pushing their
This sentiment also came out in their thoughts on the flotilla
In many Turks’ eyes, it was reasonable and acceptable that Israel
blocked the ships. But like many in Israel, they strongly disapproved of
manner in which the apprehension took place. For that and for the death
citizens they demand an apology. The Turkish government and media insist
simple apology will solve everything.
We must also understand how Turkey
views its economic and political relationship with us. The importance of
relations between the two states is as clear to Turkey as it is to
Turkey relies on Israel for advanced drones, computer chips and tanks,
imports from Turkey peripheral items likes shoes and outdated spare
parts. In Turkey’s eyes, beyond the wide array of technological and
acquisition, trade and tourism, good relations with Israel connote good
relations with the West. Within the first week after the flotilla raid,
congressmen and Jewish leaders officially renounced promotion of Turkish
interests in the halls of Congress. Distrust of Turkey was expressed in
Western capitals as well.
This is undoubtedly a crisis, but I suggest we
not blow events out of proportion. Political crises are often influenced
complex domestic considerations and processes, including internal
rivalries. As a student of history, I was immensely curious to see up
powers which drive such crises, an amalgam of coincidence and mistake,
agents and structural trends, of pride, stubbornness and the power of
Presently, I can’t do more than watch the pawns move and keep my
Due to the sensitive nature of his
visit to Turkey,
under the auspices of a company involved with the security
name of the author has been changed.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>