Un­der­stand­ing the Turks

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - An­drew Rose­ma­rine

TURKEY AND its prime min­is­ter Re­cep Er­do­gan are enor­mously im­por­tant for the fu­ture of the Mid­dle East, and yet are un­der­es­ti­mated and mis­un­der­stood by Jewry and Is­rael. In 2008, Is­rael’s con­sul in Is­tan­bul told me that Turkey was Is­rael’s “best friend in the Mid­dle East” and that Is­rael would like their re­la­tion­ship to be a model for that with other Mus­lim coun­tries. Mr Er­do­gan, how­ever, re­cently de­clared that “Is­rael has sur­passed Hitler in its bar­bar­i­ties,” was “per­pe­trat­ing geno­cide on the Pales­tinian peo­ple,” and called for Is­raelis to be hauled be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. This has roused such wrath from Jews world­wide, that re­la­tions will plum­met to an all-time low un­less both sides get a bet­ter grip on re­al­i­ties.

Prime Min­is­ter Er­do­gan will stand for elec­tion as the repub­lic’s pres­i­dent on Sun­day. He is likely to win and in­crease his power. What he says mat­ters, and Jews need to know how to re­act pru­dently, if at all.

But what he does is far more im­por­tant. I’ve just come back from Ana­to­lia, and have been shocked by Turks’ ob­ses­sion with Is­rael. Jews need to know how to deal with this com­plex state, and its Byzan­tine pol­i­tics. Is­rael’s fa­tal mis­takes in the Mavi Mar­mara con­fronta­tion, and her deputy for­eign min­is­ter’s wholly un­nec­es­sary hu­mil­i­a­tion of the Turk­ish am­bas­sador to Tel Aviv, must not be re­peated. Jews world­wide should build bridges with this great na­tion.

Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has been pre­mier since 2003, af­ter a term as mayor of Is­tan­bul. He is a sea­soned politi­cian, whose con­tro­ver­sial acts and words have di­vided Turk­ish so­ci­ety over fun­da­men­tal as­pects of life and pol­i­tics.

His anti-Is­rael bash­ing will win him votes with many, when they see im­ages of Mus­lim child vic­tims in Gaza. He is an open sup­porter of fel­low Is­lamists Ha­mas, and has sus­pended many ma­jor mil­i­tary agree­ments with Jerusalem. Is­raeli and US am­bas­sadors to Ankara have se­cretly com­plained of his im­ped­ing Is­rael’s good re­la­tions with Turkey.

Should Turkey elect him, he is likely to be pres­i­dent for at least five years, per­haps much longer. Turk­ish Jewry and Is­rael need to get along with him. This is a re­gion where en­e­mies of Is­rael are ac­tively sup­ply­ing Ha­mas, Ji­had Is­lami, Hizbol­lah and Iran, with weaponry to use against Jews.

But not Mr Er­do­gan. In­stead, he has helped Is­rael ne­go­ti­ate with Ha­mas and Syria, re­peat­edly con­demned the Holo­caust, and in­sisted that Turk­ish Jewry should not be tar­geted. His dis­taste­fully in­flated an­tiZion­ist rhetoric is used for po­lit­i­cal gain.

What is far more im­por­tant is that he has hinted at fu­ture co-op­er­a­tion with Is­rael, once hos­til­i­ties are over. In the past this has in­cluded ex­ten­sive mil­i­tary ex­changes — Turkey even let the Is­raeli air force train there. As Turkey’s econ­omy booms, the two coun­tries can ben­e­fit con­sid­er­ably from each other. Er­do­gan can help Is­rael by me­di­at­ing with Ha­mas, when­ever nec­es­sary, even now. In­deed, dur­ing cur­rent hos­til­i­ties, he has said: “If Is­rael is sin­cere on mak­ing a cease­fire, we will con­vince Ha­mas to agree.”

Is­rael needs Turkey as a ma­jor strate­gic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic part­ner. She has three of Is­rael’s most danger­ous foes, Iran, Syria and Iraq, as neigh­bours. All three have de­vel­oped nu­clear tech­nol­ogy to use against Is­rael, and Turkey can help im­pede them. Jews ev­ery­where should strain ev­ery sinew to have Turkey as an ally.

Jews need to build bridges with Turkey

An­drew Rose­ma­rine is an in­ter­na­tional lawyer and a for­mer Fel­low of the Harry S. Tru­man In­sti­tute for Peace, Jerusalem.

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