Playing the skillful political games of their Ottoman predecessors, Turkey’s current masters present their country under various guises — as European and Middle Eastern, Islamic and secular, pro-Arab and pro-Israeli.
It now appears that the end is near for at least one of these Turkish charades. Israeli officials have finally awakened from their prolonged coma to discover that their erstwhile “strategic partner” is far more hostile than their Arab enemies.
For a long time, Turkish leaders have been calling the Israelis all sorts of unsavory names and accusing Israel of committing barbaric acts, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Strangely, Israel has shown little indignation, even in the face of persistent racist and anti-Semitic outbursts by large segments of the Turkish public.
The latest display of Turkish hostility was the exclusion of Israel from a multinational military exercise which was to start in Turkey on October 12. In protest, the United States, Italy and Holland pulled out of these maneuvers, causing their cancellation. In a move designed to further irritate the Israelis, Turkey announced that it would instead hold joint military exercises with Syria, Israel’s main adversary.
Turkey’s Prime Minster Rejeb Erdogan told the Anatolia Press Agency last week that he had banned Israel from the military drill in response to the wishes of the Turkish public. “Turkey does not take orders from anyone in regards to its internal affairs,” Erdogan boasted. Some Turkish officials indicated that the ban was instituted because the Israeli jets assigned to the exercise had participated in the Gaza bombings earlier this year.
This episode marks a major escalation of the long-standing Turkish bitterness towards Israel. For the first time, the Turkish military joined the civilian government in adopting an anti-Israeli position. Furthermore, Turkey went beyond mere verbal condemnation to taking concrete action. For years, the Israeli government was willing to swallow insults from Turkish officials, as long as its Air Force was permitted to make practice runs in the vast Turkish airspace, shared intelligence, and sold military hardware to Turkey.
Making matters worse, Israelis were deeply offended by the broadcast of a Turkish show on state TV last week, depicting graphic scenes of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children and committing other atrocities.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reacted by summoning the Turkish ambassador and accused Turkey of inciting hatred against Israelis. Lieberman stated that not even Israel’s enemies would air such a hostile TV series. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom urged Turkey “to come to its senses.” Another Israeli official stated: “We need to stop accepting the Turkish dictates and humiliations. It is inconceivable that they should insult us at every opportunity, and we should continue to hold our tongues.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu categorically rejected any future mediating role for Turkey in talks with Syria. An unnamed “senior Israeli official” was quoted by Haaretz as stating that the strategic ties with Turkey may “have simply ended.” Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post quoted some Israeli defense officials as stating that “advanced weapons sales to Turkey would now be reviewed.”
There were also widespread calls last week for the Israeli public to boycott Turkish resorts. National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Israel’s largest labor union would no longer plan for thousands of its workers organized tours of Turkey, and would direct them to go instead to Greece and Bulgaria. Since January, there has been a 47% drop in the number of Israelis spending their vacations in Turkey, according to Time magazine. An Israeli coffee shop chain expressed its displeasure by announcing that it would no longer serve Turkish coffee to its customers. In an unprecedented move, several Israeli cabinet ministers declared that they would turn down the Turkish Embassy’s invitation to attend Turkey’s Independence Day celebrations later this month.
Many outraged Israelis advocated that, in retaliation, Israel acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Dan Margalit of “Israel Hayom” newspaper accused the Turks of not only committing Genocide, but also the “ongoing crime, which is expressed in energetic Turkish activity to deny the atrocity and to incite against any country and government and artist who wish to express their horror.”
Ephraim Inbar, head of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, reminded the Turks that they are still in need of “Israeli influence in Washington to prevent the passage in Congress of a resolution declaring the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide.”
In an unprecedented action, the “Im Tirtzu” Israeli student movement held a protest last week in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv. The students displayed bloody pictures of victims of the Armenian Genocide, handed out books on the Genocide to passersby, and carried signs calling on Turkey to formally recognize the Genocide.
To atone for its past sin of siding with Turkish denialists, Israel must officially affirm the Armenian Genocide as well as actively lobby for its recognition by other states. Israel should also permit the erection of a monument at a prominent location to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide and reverse its long-standing ban on TV broadcast of documentaries on this subject. It is certainly in Israel’s own interest to side with the victims of genocide rather than with its perpetrators!
Instead of maintaining at all cost its unholy alliance with Turkey, Israel should earnestly pursue a peace settlement with the Palestinians and live in peace with its Arab neighbors, thus obviating the need to curry favors with the Turkish denialist regime.