Israel, Islam and Modernity (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 25, March 30, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Disillusionment with the policy of unilateral concessions to the Palestinians was a major contributor to the mood swing that marginalized the Israeli left in the recent Knesset elections. An equally potent jolt to the land-for-peace doctrine came with the collapse of the implicit fallback position: If things do not work out the way we predicted, we can always react with overwhelming force while enjoying full international backing. Not only did the promised overwhelming support fail to materialize, but some of the reaction to Israel's Gaza incursion proved downright ugly. Perhaps the greatest sense of betrayal was caused by official Turkey's vituperative response. Turkey was arguably the most important venue for mass Israeli tourism. Ties were also strong on the economic, military and even athletic levels. True, there were nasty undercurrents in popular culture such as films portraying Jews as organ harvesters in Iraq and a plethora of Jewish conspiracy literature. Still, the virulence of the anti-Israel street demonstrations and the Turkish Jewish community's sense of siege and menace came as a rude shock; Ankara had suddenly morphed into Hugo Chavez's Caracas. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister and leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was widely seen as the villain of the piece, given his outspoken support for Hamas, vicious criticism of Israel and even a throw away remark that appeared to justify Israel's disappearance. When my wife and I visited Istanbul last September, a visit that today would be inconceivable, the divide between the two Turkeys, the secular and the religious, was palpable. As a member of Israel's modern Orthodox subculture, I found myself curiously conflicted. I instinctively felt a greater sympathy for the more modestly dressed Islamic women (although not for those taking their fashion cues from Tehran and Saudi Arabia) than for the pierced and scantily clad representatives of secular Istanbul. Taking this personal dilemma to a national level, I regret the circumstances that compel Israel to seek out Arab secularists as interlocutors, while the more Islamic elements are written off as implacable enemies. Contributing editor Amiel Ungar is a columnist for the Makor Rishon daily and the national religious monthly Nekuda. Extract from an article in Issue 25, March 30, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.