Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar was the last of five new ambassadors who, on Wednesday, presented their credentials to President Isaac Herzog. The president in turn invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Israel.
Torunlar, a former consul general in Jerusalem, is the first ambassador of Turkey appointed to Israel after a four-year hiatus.
The diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and Turkey began following Herzog’s ascent to the presidency in July 2021. Erdoğan called to congratulate him and there has been continued communication between the two, culminating in Herzog’s state visit to Turkey in March 2022, at which time he was received with due pomp and ceremony.
It subsequently became increasingly obvious that full diplomatic relations between the two countries would be resumed.
In a relatively unusual step, both Herzog and Torunlar made statements to the media in the course of the presentation ceremony. This has happened in the past in the case of American ambassadors and ambassadors from Arab countries that were being represented in Israel for the first time, but the usual procedure is for the president to have a tête-à-tête with each new ambassador, after which they drink a toast and shake hands. Before leaving, the ambassador writes an inscription in the guest book and the president then walks the ambassador outside to a waiting car at the end of the pergola covering the patio between the building and the garden.
On this occasion, in addition to the conversation, they both made a statement – Torunlar urged that the status quo vis-à-vis the Temple Mount be maintained.
What did Herzog and Torunlar say?
Herzog emphasized the importance that Israel attaches to relations with Turkey and the long common history that goes back centuries before the establishment of the state. The relationship has known crises in the past, he conceded, but is now on a very encouraging trajectory.
Recalling his visit to Turkey in March 2022, he said that relations had progressed rapidly since then and he was confident that they will advance further in the future for the benefit of the citizens of both countries and of the region.
His optimism was based on private conversations that he has had with Erdoğan, as well as what the Turkish president has said in public regarding the significance of the partnership between the two countries.
Such a visit by Erdoğan, he believes, will contribute to the deepening of relations and to increased cooperation.
Torunlar confirmed that Erdoğan believes that the renewed relationship will be mutually beneficial, and stated that in Ankara last year he had heard both presidents make remarks to that effect.
He noted that Turkey had been among the first countries to officially recognize the nascent State of Israel, and emphasized that Turkey had never been anti-Jewish or anti-Israel. Like Israel, Turkey is battling terrorism, he said, and is like-minded on other issues. He voiced regret that the scourge of antisemitism is continuing in even the most developed countries in the world. “It’s a disease like all forms of homophobia and racism,” he said.
Torunlar was pleased that Israeli tourism to Turkey has revived, and looks forward to it flourishing even more.
Although diplomatic relations had been downgraded, relations per se had never been severed, despite disagreements. “We can disagree and still be friends,” the Turkish ambassador said.
Despite the diplomatic downgrade over the past four years, economic relations have continued to flourish – last year two-way trade totaled $10 billion. Torunlar anticipates that this year the sum will be considerably higher and will rise to $15 billion.
THE OTHER ambassadors were Dr. Ralph King of Australia, Pedro Laylo of the Philippines, Milton Eduardo Umana Acevedo of El Salvador and Kim Jin-Han of South Korea.
In his conversation with the new Australian ambassador, Herzog spoke of the persuasive role that Australia played in securing a majority vote on the partition of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly. He also mentioned that his father had been the first president of Israel to pay a state visit to Australia, and that he hoped to do the same in 2024. He was hopeful that direct flights between Israel and Australia will soon become a reality. The ambassador said that this was an issue that was being worked on.
Laylo, wearing his country’s national shirt – as did all male members of his staff – came with his wife, son and daughter. A political pollster by profession, Laylo is a political appointee. Herzog said that he had heard many positive things about the Philippines from his senior foreign policy advisor Zvi Vapni and from Raphael Harpaz, the head of the Asia and Pacific Division at the Foreign Ministry, both of whom have served as Israel’s ambassador to the Philippines.
Vapni mentioned that during the Holocaust, President Manuel Quezon provided a safe haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. Herzog said that Israel would be forever grateful for this.
He asked Laylo what made the Filipinos – who commonly act as caregivers in Israel – so unique, describing them as “guardian angels.” Both his mother and his aunt, in the twilight of their years, had been cared for by Filipina caregivers. Laylo quipped that the secret lay in the tropical climate.
A former tourism minister, Herzog, in his conversation with El Salvador’s Ambassador Umana, was curious about how many Israelis visit El Salvador. The country has a number of world-class tourist attractions and is developing more on the Pacific coastline.
When Herzog learned that only a few hundred Israelis visit El Salvador annually, he said that not enough is discussed about tourism to El Salvador and that more must be done to boost Israeli tourism in that direction. In addition to increased tourism, Umana is interested in seeing growth in bilateral trade and in foreign investment.
Growth in the national economy was the common denominator in the conversation between Herzog and Korea’s Kim Jin-Han. Herzog commented on the number of Korean companies represented in Israel, and the popularity of their products – which are largely based on innovation. They also discussed Israel’s influential input in bringing about an end to the Korean war.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Herzog raised his glass in a toast, said le-Chayim (to life) and asked his guest what is said in his country.
In Korea it’s “campei,” but instead of saying that, the ambassador raised his glass and said in Hebrew “Am Yisrael Chai!”