Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Harsh Exchange of Words . . .

Leaders of Turkey and Israel exchanged more harsh words for each other after Prime Minister Erdogan said that Israel was the main threat to Middle East peace during his recent state visit to France. From Hurriyet Daily News:
“If a country uses disproportionate force in Palestine, in Gaza - uses phosphorous shells - we're not going to say 'bravo,’” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared at a breakfast meeting in Paris, referring to Israel's deadly January 2009 on the Gaza Strip. Operation Cast Lead left around 1,400 Palestinians dead and destroyed thousands of homes.

Erdoğan said Israel's justification for the offensive was based on “lies” and cited a report by U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who accused both Israel and Palestinians of war crimes.

“Goldstone is a Jew and his report is clear,” the Turkish leader told reporters invited to meet him at the Paris Ritz Hotel. “It's not because we are Muslims that we take this position. Our position is humanitarian. It's Israel that is the principal threat to regional peace,” said Erdoğan speaking in Turkish, through a French interpreter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at what he said were Turkey's repeated attacks. “We are interested in good relations with Turkey and regret that Erdogan chooses time after time to attack Israel,” he said at a Jerusalem news conference held to review his first year in office.

“It is a regrettable occurrence which I don't think serves the interests of stability and improved relations in our region,” said Netanyahu, adding that he had not discussed the issue with Erdoğan.

Erdoğan’s remarks came as Israel’s firebrand foreign minister likened him to the leaders of Libya and Venezuela. On Tuesday, Ankara “vehemently condemned” remarks attributed to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that compared Erdoğan to Muammar al-Gadhafi of Libya and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Israeli Web site Ynet quoted Lieberman as saying on Monday that Erdoğan is "slowly turning into Gaddafi or Hugo Chavez" and added: "It's his choice. The problem is not Turkey, the problem is Erdoğan."
On Friday, Netanyahu announced that Israel would not be attending tomorrow's conference on nuclear proliferation in Washington for fears that Turkey (and Egypt) would use the conference to raise the issue of Israel and the NPT.

In other Israel-related news, Turkey announced that it will be recalling Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who was involved in the now infamous chair debaucle of last January. Celikkol will be replaced with Kerim Uras.

On the domestic front, see Claire Berlinksi's recent reflections on anti-Semitism in Turkey. From Berlinski's piece in World Affairs:
Erdogan’s behavior at Davos has given his critics here a kind of grim satisfaction. But it has not caused me to revise my own opinion of the AKP. My view is that the leadership of the AKP isn’t so much radical as cynical. If appealing to Islam helps them grasp power and keep it, they are more than happy to do so, whatever the consequences. They have discovered how to use religious sentiment to get votes, and thus to get rich, without bringing the hammer of the secularist military down upon themselves. They assume they can now use anti-Semitism in just the same way.

Many of the AKP’s senior figures rose to prominence in the now-banned Refah Party, led by ousted prime minister Necmettin Erbakan. Refah, and the larger Milli Görüs¸ movement associated with it, unquestionably did represent a deeply sinister strain of Islamic radicalism, giving the lie to the claim that there exists no such tradition in Turkey. Erbakan came to power promising to “rescue Turkey from the unbelievers of Europe,” wrest power from “imperialists and Zionists,” and launch a jihad to recapture Jerusalem. One of his first acts, upon taking office, was to fly to Iran and fawn over Khomeini.

In 1997, Erbakan was ousted by the army. Refah was banned. The AKP’s senior figures, including the prime minister and the president, have publicly renounced Erbakan and his ideology. But the AKP’s enemies find it frankly preposterous to imagine that the leaders of the AKP have experienced some kind of road-to-Damascus conversion (so to speak). Necdet, as I will call him, a middle-aged man in the construction business, put it to me this way: “Once an Islamist, always an Islamist. There’s no such thing as moderate Islam. You Americans don’t understand that. That was your biggest mistake, supporting the Taliban against the Soviet Union. You can’t make Muslims into your allies. It isn’t possible.”

I sympathize with this view, but suspect the truth is closer to this: Erdogan used Erbakan for as long as it was convenient—Refah was the only party that would allow a ruffian from the slums like Erdogan to get his foot in the door. When Erdogan realized that he would never attain power through Refah, he ditched it and the rhetoric associated with it. Power, not Islamic hegemony, motivates him. He is afraid of losing it now that his Potemkin economic miracle is on the verge of exposure, and if he needs to return to the gutter to keep it, well, one does what one needs to do.

The danger is that Erdogan and his intimates may be cynical, but the people to whom they are now appealing are not. They believe what he says. The AKP is conjuring up a genie it may not be able to master.
Berlinksi also reports on a visit she made to the office of Saadet Partisi.

Relatedly, worth taking a look at is Today's Zaman colmnist Dogu Ergil's recent column, which curiously examines allegations of Israeli ties to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). I have heard these murmurings from Turks before, and true or not, they will likely be played up by some anti-Semitic forces as more fodder for the masses. Tough times ahead indeed.

For more on anti-Semitism, click here.

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