“The Jewish lobby has lost much of its mythical power. Our prime minister’s rhetoric and actions have largely caused this. The way he [Erdogan] walked out of the Davos meeting [in 2009] has substantially tarnished Israel’s regional charisma. Despite all that, Israel has been unable to harm Turkey.” This quote was from former senior diplomat and member of parliament Volkan Bozkir, of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP], in an interview with the daily Hurriyet on March 18, 2013. In Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s mini-cabinet reshuffle last month, Bozkir became Turkey’s European Union Minister and chief negotiator with the club for Turkish membership.
Since Turkey downgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel four years ago, the Jewish state has tried, in vain, to normalize ties. Efforts have included a 2013 move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to phone then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan to apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010. Since the Israeli raid on the Turkish flotilla that aimed to break the “illegal siege” of Gaza, Turkey has repeatedly said that normalization would never come before: a) Israel apologized for Mavi Marmara, b) Israel compensated for the families of the nine Turks killed aboard the vessel, and c) Israel altogether removed the blockade on Gaza. News of a potential breakthrough has never been absent on newspaper pages in both countries.
Most recently, Verda Ozer, a columnist with Hurriyet, quoted a “top official in Ankara” telling her: “We are ready for normalization with Israel.” She wrote in her column on Oct. 25:
My question was this: Is Turkey considering normalizing its relations with Israel and Egypt, which are the only countries offering stability in the region other than Iran? The official continued: “There is only the compensation issue remaining. After this is solved, we could send back our ambassador and relations would be normalized.”
Is normalization possible? Theoretically, it is. In reality, it is a near impossibility.
Since Netanyahu’s apology, Turkey, both governmentally and publicly, has reached peak after peak in exhibiting anti-Semitism unseen before. A year-and-a-half after Netanyahu’s initiative to apologize for the Mavi Marmara, Erdogan ordered the Turkish Ambassador to Washington, DC, Serdar Kilic, to write on his behalf to the American Jewish Congress to express his willingness to return a 2004 “Profile of Courage Award” the New York-based organization had awarded him. Shortly before that, the organization had said that Erdogan had become the world’s “most virulent anti-Israeli leader” and demanded that he return the award. During Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, Erdogan commented that “Israel had surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
Erdogan (and Davutoglu, for that matter) has both pragmatic and emotional reasons to challenge Israel publicly, and to maintain Turkey’s “cold war” with Israel. Emotional, because a holy struggle against Israel is a prerequisite for his pro-Hamas Islamism. And pragmatic, because the cold war and his explosive rhetoric around it have yielded a treasure-trove of votes in a country that champions anti-Semitism. The critical parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015 will most likely be another setting for his new verbal assaults on Israel.
In a speech last week, Erdogan defended Turkey’s press freedom record by claiming that 16 journalists were killed during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, this summer.
“Unfortunately, some politicians in Turkey and some international media outlets are harshly criticizing Turkey, saying there is no press freedom in the country,” he said. “But the 16 journalists who were killed by Israel during the Gaza attacks have never been brought up.” That was Erdogan’s account of press freedoms in Turkey and Israel. As always, reality is different from fabrication.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], 16 journalists have been killed in Israel since 1992, but NOT during Operation Protective Edge. And the CPJ’s database puts the number of journalists killed in Turkey since 1992 at 20!
On Freedom House’s press freedoms index, Turkey belongs to the “not free” group of countries, ranking 134th globally, and sharing the same score as South Sudan, Libya, Ecuador and Armenia. Israel belongs to the “free” group of countries, ranking 62nd and scoring better than EU member states Italy (64), Hungary (71), Bulgaria (78) and Greece (92).
On the 2014 press freedoms index of the Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranks an embarrassing 154th, a score worse than Iraq, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Jordan, Chad, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Angola, Mali, South Sudan, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan. On the same index, Israel ranks 96th.
Once again, Erdogan corrupted facts and figures in order to bash Israel — while his diplomats are speaking of “Turkey’s readiness to normalize its ties with Israel.” In reality, with or without the normalization of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Jerusalem, the Turks have never hidden their broader goals in the Arab-Israeli dispute: that Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state; and that Israel should be pushed back to its pre-1967 borders. Until then, it will be ‘halal’ [permitted in Islam] for Erdogan to blame Israel for global warming, the Ebola virus, starvation in Africa and every other misfortune the world faces.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.