Herzog to visit Turkey this week

Herzog will be the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey since 2008 and the first president since 2003.

 President Herzog at the Dubai expo, 1/31/2022. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Herzog at the Dubai expo, 1/31/2022.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog is scheduled to begin a two-day visit to Turkey on Wednesday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and to meet members of the Jewish community in Istanbul, the President’s Residence confirmed on Saturday.

Herzog will be the first Israeli leader to visit Turkey since 2008 and the first president since 2003.

The president and his wife Michal will be welcomed to the Presidential Complex in an official ceremony in the capital Ankara, and then Istanbul, to meet members of the Jewish community.

The presidents are expected to discuss Israel-Turkey relations and the potential for expanding collaboration between their respective countries.

The rapprochement between Israel and Turkey in recent months, following years of frosty relations, began with Erdogan calling Herzog to congratulate him on his election victory. They have spoken several times since.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in February that Israel was treating Erdogan’s overtures cautiously.

“Things are happening very slowly and gradually,” he said, adding that Herzog’s trip to Ankara was being fully coordinated with him. He praised Herzog’s role in Israel’s international relations.

Erdogan called for improved ties with Israel several times last year, including in December to the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States. Despite his differences with Israel over finding a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, Erdogan said, relations between Turkey and Israel are essential for the security and stability of the region.

Turkey’s change in policy might be related to its declining economy and growing diplomatic isolation, which it has sought to resolve, including through a rapprochement with the United Arab Emirates.

At the same time, Turkey harbors Hamas terrorists, Erdogan has accused Israel of intentionally killing Palestinian children, and state-controlled media outlets have broadcast antisemitic television programs.

Earlier this year, the Turkish foreign ministry criticized Israel for evicting Palestinians who illegally built their homes and businesses on public land, and Turkey’s religious affairs ministry organized a “symposium meant to raise awareness about conflict in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque,” among other destabilizing activities in Israel’s capital.

Tensions between Israel and Turkey began in 2008, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert met with Erdogan and launched Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip days later. They peaked in 2010 when the Erdogan-linked IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) sent the Mavi Marmara to break the IDF’s naval blockade on Gaza, arming some of the people aboard the vessel. IDF naval commandos stopped the ship, were confronted by IHH members aboard and killed nine of them.

Israel and Turkey maintained diplomatic relations in the aftermath, even reinstalling ambassadors in 2016. But two years later, Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador over the IDF’s response to rioting on the Gaza border.

During his visit to Nicosia last week and Athens the week before that, Herzog assured Cyprus and Greece that mending fences with Turkey would not come at the expense of excellent relations with them.

Before leaving for Turkey, Herzog will host the largest swearing-in ceremony for judges ever held at the President’s Residence, where 50 new judges, including one Supreme Court judge, will pledge their allegiance on Sunday evening.

For more than 20 years, there has been a serious case backlog in all the courts, and these judicial appointments are intended to help relieve the logjam.