Should Israel apologize to Turkey?

If the Turkish demand for an apology is nothing more than a hammed-up provocation, is Israel justified in refusing to acquiesce — even if it means severing ties with its Muslim ex-ally?

mavi marmara passengers 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
mavi marmara passengers 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
The back-and-forth spat between Israeli and Turkish officials over the Mavi Marmara affair conjures up scenarios of a schoolyard bully pulling his classmate’s pigtails before a teacher intervenes and demands an apology. But bizarrely, at the bully’s insistence that “she started it,” it is the hair-abuse victim who is asked to apologize.
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Israel isthe unassuming little girl, the IHH-backed ship is the bully and the teacher isthe Turkish government.
Of course, most people will argue that the allegory’s characterizations are the wrong way around: after all, the image of trained IDF soldiers shimmying down ropes doesn’t exactly bring Laura Ingalls to mind, and for that matter the phrase “humanitarian activists” isn’t quite analogous with the image of a tormenting schoolboy menace. 
But it is exactly like that.
Without the Turkish government’s support of the IHH—recognized by Israel as a terrorist organization—the Mavi Marmara might never have breached the blockade, and nine lives would have been saved.  
However, for argument’s sake, let’s imagine for a moment that the facts on the sea are irrelevant. In such a scenario, the only relevant question is this: Is the excessive hoo-hahing about who owes whom an apology worth the price that both sides are paying? 
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, not known for his eloquence, fell on the sword of his own rhetoric on Wednesday at a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Lieberman restated his view that “there is no need to apologize” to Turkey, and that doing so would be “a humiliation.” He also accused Turkey of using the apology-card as a cheap trick to flex its muscles in the region, stating that it was simply “a matter of honor” for the Turks. 
Yet when speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lieberman seemed to have undergone a change of heart regarding the importance of honor. Israel cannot apologize to Turkey because, according to Lieberman, doing so will “harm Israel’s dignity, [and] national honor carries a real significance.”
But if this is a legitimate rebuttal on Israel’s part, why is Turkey slated for its own efforts towards the same end?
Semantics aside, can’t Israel simply swallow its pride and apologize in much the same way a Englishman is prone to say sorry to the person stepping on his toe? Isn’t the greater good of repairing diplomatic relations with Israel’s erstwhile Muslim ally worth the temporary embarrassment of apologetics? And as we already know, sorry is not the hardest word for Israel, as evidenced by the public apology to Turkey last year over the “Sofagate” incident.
Unfortunately—at least in this part of the world—the answer is no. 
A diplomatic apology is not a band-aid that gets discarded once the wound has healed. Official apologies remain in collective memory forever. They carry tremendous power and can reshape the historical account of events. Furthermore, a diplomatic apology necessarily includes an acknowledgement of responsibility and acceptance of liability.
Consider what transpired at the UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, close to 10 years ago. The conference was a veritable finger-pointing fest, with Arab representatives accusing Israel of racism while representatives from African countries slammed Europe and the US over slavery. In the latter case, African delegates demanded recognition of slavery as a crime against humanity (which has no statute of limitations) and further demanded individual apologies from European countries. 
In the interests of preventing future liability, the delegations of European countries - including Britain, the Netherlands and Spain - fought hard to substitute the word “apology” with “regret” – the same word Israel is currently offering as an olive branch to Turkey. [Incidentally, the issue of reparations and apologies over slavery is one of the reasons the US pulled its delegation from the conference.]
So Europe and the US get away without ever officially succumbing to the humiliation of apologizing for slavery – indeed, they even escaped having to pay reparations – while Israel is expected to apologize over the use of “excessive” force during the breach of a legally sound blockade?
And while we’re on the subject of overdue apologies, Turkey may want to revisit its own sordid history on the matter.
Israel is not the first country to have its ties with Turkey severed over the issue of apology. While the argument of “they did it so why can’t we?” never works for Israel - primarily because the Jewish state is measured by a different moral standard than the rest of the world – there are things that are either too juicy or too horrifying to ignore.
Exhibit A is the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans during World War I. Demands by the Armenian community in Turkey to receive an apology from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have consistently been met with refusal. To add insult to annihilation, Turkey continues to reject the term genocide.
In light of its ongoing 16-year-old blockade of Armenia, one would think Turkey would be a tad more sympathetic towards Israel’s own blockade of Gaza.
So here’s a demand for you Prime Minister Erdogan: Instead of trying to mask your country’s macabre history with deplorable refutations, how about taking a leaf out of your own book and owning up to it? You never know, apologizing to the Kurds and the Armenians might just spur Israel to follow by example.
The writer is editor of The Jerusalem Post's Premium Zone.