Have we lost Turkey?

Turks' attitude toward Israelis has little to do with Operation Cast Lead or the flotilla. It stems from the disrespect that we have shown them.

TurkishDemonstrationBurningStarOfDavid311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
It has been more than two weeks since we have been engaged in a media and public outcry in the aftermath of the flotilla incident and Turkey’s reaction to it. The notion that the Turks should be punished, either by means of denying them the commerce from Israeli tourism, or by a diplomatic offensive, such as reminding the world about their crimes against the Armenians during World War I, is heard more frequently. As a travel guide, I visit Turkey very often. Today, encouraging Israeli tourism to Turkey may be met with the accusation of not being in touch with reality, or in extreme cases, of encouraging something anti-Israeli.
The Israeli media is waving flags of hatred: Turkey is a Muslim country; Islam intoxicates its followers with fanaticism, aggression and passion of hatred towards Israel. They should be hit hard, they insist, because that is the only language they understand. But I cannot help but wonder – who does this fueled hatred serve? What motivates people to suddenly be caught in a passionate craving for revenge towards the Turks who suddenly “hate us?”
My encounters with many Turks, even in recent times, in various airports, confirmed clearly to me that most Turks do not know they need to hate us, and they would not stand behind the words of some of their politicians.
Modern Turkey is in a position that requires quite a bit of maneuvering. The West’s attitude towards it is characterized by duplicity, and arouses wonder and indignation. On the one hand Turkey has done something that is unmatched in the Muslim world: Since the days of Ataturk, there has been a separation between religion and state, and the Turkish Republic has been a secular state since 1923.
The West, Israel included, enjoys having Turkey as a close ally, as well as a member of NATO. It is a good base of operations for activity in Iraq, its vast territories are seen as a blessing for Israeli Air Force training and the country’s fertile market is inviting to entrepreneurs.
For decades, Turkey has taken impressive steps to get closer to the West, and strived to join the EU. Among Arab countries, Turkey’s attraction to the West generated a wave of hatred and anger at what they perceiped as a betrayal. The Western world, in turn, remained aloof and withdrawn from Turkey. Time after time, the EU refrained from adopting Turkey on various pretexts. First it was required to admit its guilt in the massacre of the Armenian people athe beginning of the 20th Century, then it was required to handle the Kurdish rebellions gently and hopefully by then, maybe, it would win its place as a second-rate among equals in the EU.
The Turkish people see their nation as one being squeezed by opposing forces, being pushed in all directions in the international arena. What wonder is it then, that given the West’s constant disapproval and the strengthening of radical Islam among the weak and poor classes, that certain entities would try to rise up and try to “return” Turkey’s former glory and regain its place as the flagship among the Arab countries.
MOSTLY, TURKEY is called upon not to disclose its Muslim face publicly, a face that does not bode well in the Western world’s eyes since 9/11. The media’s position and the public’s opinion can be encapsulated in the simple equation Islam = Problem. True, Muslim terror exists, so does Muslim extremism, as well as malice and violence, but would that summarize the Muslim world? What about the beauty of the Suleiman Mosque and the Taj Mahal, built by Muslim deities? What about the depth of Sufi teachings and the beauty of the Sufi whirling? The Hadith sermons? The unity of faith reflected in the poems of Kabir?
What about the fact that for hundreds of years it was the permissive rule of Islam that made the presence of a stranger in his land possible, with all that entails?
Over the past decade, I have guided many Israeli groups to Turkey. During these years, I could not help but notice the drastic change in the attitude of the people living in the more remote areas of Turkey toward Israelis. How easy it is to say, “Well of course, everyone here is an Israel-hating Muslim,” and go on to the next destination, releasing ourselves from any responsibility?
The reason for this change, as I saw it unfolding in front of my eyes, did not stem from our being Israelis nor from anti-Semitism, and it also had nothing to do with the recent war in Gaza or with the flotilla incident.
It stems, in my opinion, from the disrespect that we, the Israelis, have shown the Turkish people.
Some examples: Many of our tour operators charge the Israeli touristfor tip fees, but the tips are not passed on to the locals. Many of theIsraeli travel agencies bypass Turkish law by avoiding hiring localguides, even where it is necessary to have local guides; Israeli jeepconvoys are known for their total disregard of Turkish trafficcourtesies; Israeli travelers pick fruit from private orchards withoutpermission; Israelis bargain in aggressive ways even though in ruralTurkey, this is not a standard practice.
Excuse my focus on these almost petty examples, but I believe thatthese seemingly minor infractions are precisely what shape impressions,which then go on to create a generalized attitude.
Of course the flotilla event was not a simple humanitarian endeavor. Itwas clearly an ugly, narrow-minded provocation. But in ourrelationships with the Turks, we must not choose to see and rememberonly what has been chosen for us to see and remember. How can wetranscend these stereotypes that Turkey and specifically IslamicTurkey, is the problem? Turkey is a Muslim country and to this day, wehave shared a fruitful relationship resulting in multiple channels ofmutual benefit. We need to ask ourselves what part we have played inthe recent divide. Have we invested enough effort toward understandingthe trap-like situation that Turkey finds itself?
So, what is the meaning of the notion that we have lost Turkey and onwhat basis do we justify boycotting Turkey? It would seem that such anattitude will lead to only more hatred and aggression.
The writer is a tour guide and a regular contributor to travel magazines.