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Under Geopolitical Pressure, Erdogan Attempts to Make Nice with Israel

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With Arab countries now making financial and other agreements with Israel, Turkey finds itself isolated in the region and losing export markets.

By: Dmitriy Shapiro

In a virtual discussion held by the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), Turkish scholar and former politician Aykan Erdemir said Jews should be wary of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outreach efforts towards Jews and Israel.

After nearly two decades of increasingly antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, Erdogan has begun making conciliatory gestures towards Jews and Israel, surprising many in the West.

In her introduction to the Jan. 5 webcast, Sarah Stern—the founder and president of EMET—spoke about Erdogan’s Dec. 22 meeting with Turkey’s Jewish leaders, members of the Alliance of Rabbis of Islamic State and the chief rabbi of Russia at his palace in Ankara. During the meeting, Erdogan made conciliatory statements about Israel and spoke against antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

“Turkey’s relationship with Israel is vital towards the stability of our region,” Stern quoted Erdogan, and “we must all work together to strengthen peace and stability in the Middle East. We are ready to improve our cooperation and make better use of our potential.”

Turkey’s government-aligned news outlet Daily Sabah, also quoted Erdogan saying: “I value our renewed dialogue with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.”

The statements are an about-face from the Turkish leader’s record, in which as recently as last year he said about Israel that “they’re murderers, to the point that they kill children who are 5 or 6 years old. They are only satisfied by sucking their blood. It is in their nature.”

Erdogan also lashed out at the United States for its support of Israel during the 11-day conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in May, saying that it had blood on its hands—statements condemned by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price as “reprehensible and antisemitic.”

Stern asked whether this change of character has anything to do with Turkey’s recent economic outlook, including a 36 percent inflation rate and troubled relationships with other nations in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


‘Serving Erdogan’s transnational Islamist interests’

Erdemir, Turkey program senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pointed out that Erdogan has previously made gestures of goodwill towards the Turkish Jewish community and made appeals towards Israel only to punctuate these gestures by more outbursts of antisemitism.

He compared it to a publicly traded stock that appears promising but never increases in price.

“And with Erdogan, we have to look at his fundamentals, and what I mean by that, is his core values, his background, where he comes from, what is his worldview, what is his ethos?” said Erdemir. He also pointed out that last year’s attack on Israel also came shortly after he had reached out to the Jewish state.


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