Is Turkey’s Prime Minister outdoing Ahmadinejad?
While Iran’s president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been commonly seen as the archetypical Jew-hater, having denied the Holocaust and vowing to “Wipe Israel off the map,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is inching his way to the top of the list of ‘Israel and Jew-haters.’
Although Erdogan is not alone within the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led Turkish government to express negative sentiments about Israel, it is Erdogan who has publicly expressed the most visceral of anti-Israel statements.
The Israeli government approved “Cast Lead” operation against Gaza based Hamas, which had lobbed close to 10,000 rockets into Southern Israel, was the “match which lit the fire” of Erdogan’s rage against Israel. Erdogan’s Islamist background and convictions and that of his political party which has received the votes of the largely religiously Muslim majority in Anatolia, makes his attacks on the Jewish state politically useful, and personally cathartic.
Bloomberg reported on 11/29/10 that “U.S. and Israeli diplomats agreed that the increasingly strained relationship between Turkey and Israel derived mostly from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hatred of the Jewish State, according to cables posted by Wikileaks.org.” The article in Business Week goes on to say “Israeli ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy described Erdogan as a “fundamentalist” who “hates us religiously.”
This was revealed in a cable U.S. ambassador to Turkey James F. Jeffrey sent to Washington and now released by Wikileaks.
The row between Erdogan and Israel seems to have begun on January 29, 2009, when Erdogan walked off the stage during a World Economic Forum panel discussion on Gaza, in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan was upset that he was not given the last word, and shouted at Israel’s President Shimon Peres saying, “Mr. Peres, you’re older than me and your voice comes out in a very loud tone. And the loudness of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience.” Not satisfied, Erdogan added, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”
On February 19, 2009, Current Affairs reported that, “Turkish Prime Minister says Israeli premier’s recent remarks about Gaza are inconsistent and create distrust among leaders.” Erdogan said that, “the comments made by Olmert are inconsistent. Which part of his remarks will you believe?” Erdogan made these statements during a joint press conference with his Croatian counterpart in Ankara. Erdogan was apparently upset with Olmert for not advising him on the impending Israeli operation in Gaza.
Olmert, for his part, pointed out that he didn’t tell Erdogan about the Gaza operation “because he didn’t know that he would order an offensive in a few days, and because he could not expect to inform any prime minister about Israel’s military plans.” Olmert added, “Quite frankly, I didn’t call the president of the United States, my good friend, George W. Bush, at that time, and say to him, I am going to attack Gaza …why should I say to any prime minister what the military plans of Israel are for defending its citizens? I don’t think it was the right thing to do…and I was quite unhappy with the feelings that were expressed by the Turkish prime minister.”
With Erdogan assuming the role of the protector of Hamas-led Gaza, it was only a matter of time before Erdogan would provoke a confrontation with Israel. It came on May 31, 2010, when the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish boat chartered by the Islamist Turkish NGO IHH with ties to Hamas and Erdogan’s government, sailed to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli (and Egyptian) blockade of Gaza. Told to halt their advance towards Gaza, the people aboard the ship refused and beat up Israeli naval commandos who boarded the ship. Fearing for their lives, the outnumbered Israeli commandos opened fire on their Turkish attackers killing nine.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the incident in an interview saying “This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists, they weren’t peace activists, these were violent supporters of terrorism.” For Erdogan however, it was an opportunity to express his visceral hate for Israel. “Israel cannot clean the blood off its hands through any excuse,” Erdogan said, “It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israeli lawlessness. This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse.”
Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998 for four months while a member of the outlawed Islamist Welfare party. In August 2001, he formed the AK party and led it to victory in the February 2003 elections. In March 2003, he became Prime Minister of Turkey.
A report drafted by the research department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and published by Israeli daily Haaretz notes that “Ever since his party took power, Erdogan has conducted an ongoing process of fashioning a negative view of Israel in Turkish public opinion. For Erdogan and some of those around him there is no distinction between ‘Israeli’ and ‘Jewish.’ Erdogan also turns a blind eye and grants legitimacy to anti-Israeli television programs of an inflammatory and anti-Semitic nature.”
In 2006, the Turkish production Valley of the Wolves: Iraq sparked an outrage in the Jewish world. It depicted Jewish doctors harvesting the organs of Iraqis and transferring them to Israel for transplants. The upcoming episode of the same production titled Valley of the Wolves: Palestine due to be screened in January 2011 tells the story of a Turkish agent named Polat Alemdar who goes on a mission to Israel to extract revenge against the Jews - pay back for the Gaza flotilla. In one scene Polat is asked “When did you come to Israel? He responds, “I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine.” In another scene he is told, “You know you won’t make it out of the Promised Land,” and he replies: “I don’t know what part of this land has been promised, but I promise you six feet under.”
Turkey canceled a military exercise with Israel last year, and Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on October 18, 2010 that Erdogan won’t attend a Mediterranean Conference on climate change in Athens if Netanyahu is there. According to Ha’aretz, Erdogan said that he “does not want to talk to a prime minister who supported Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound ship in which nine Turks were killed.”
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister - a former foreign relations professor, and the chief ideologue of the AKP, believes (according to a 11/28/10 report in Israeli Hebrew daily Maariv) that “Israel will not be able to remain an independent state, and that in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River a bi-national state will be established where Arab-Palestinians and Jews will live together”. He reiterated repeatedly in a meeting with academicians and journalists prior to the flotilla incident his vision that Turkey will become the dominant factor in the greater Middle East and that the bi-national state will become in the next few years a Turkish dependency.
In Davutoglu’s assessment, Israel will be unable to sign peace treaties with its neighbors, including the emerging Palestinian State. Davutoglu’s conclusion is that Israel as an independent state is illegitimate in the region, and it is bound to disappear.
Erdogan and Davutoglu are advancing a new regional order in which Erdogan through stronger ties with Iran and Syria, and Davutoglu through an ideological platform, seeks to create a new regional order in which there is no place for an independent Jewish State.
Since his reelection in July 2007, Erdogan has strengthened his ties with the Muslim world, particularly with neighboring Iran and Syria (Note: all three countries oppress their Kurdish minorities) while cooling his relations with the West.
It appears now that Erdogan is trying to outdo Iran’s Ahmadinejad with his burning hostility towards Israel, as he seeks to gain a leadership position for Turkey in the Muslim world.