TURKISH PM GREETED BY CHEERS AFTER ISRAEL DEBATE CLASH
by Robert Tait
January 30, 2009
Recep Tayyip Erdogan argued with Israeli president over Gaza offensive,
before storming out
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, arrived home to a
tumultuous reception of cheering crowds early today after storming
out of a debate in Davos over Israel's recent offensive in Gaza.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen during a session
at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday,
Jan. 29, 2009.
(AP Photo/Michel Euler)Hours after clashing with the Israeli president,
Shimon Peres, in angry scenes at the normally sedate world economic
forum, he was welcomed at Istanbul's Ataturk airport by thousands of
supporters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting "Turkey
is proud of you".
Sympathisers also left bouquets of flowers at his official residence.
The outpouring of support displayed the domestic political capital
Erdogan gained from his performance at the Swiss resort, where he
told Peres: "When it comes to killing, you know very well how to
kill." He then walked off the stage, declaring that he would never
return to Davos, after claiming he had not been allowed to speak by
the debate moderator, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Erdogan also accused Peres of raising his voice and claimed the Israeli
statesman had been allowed more speaking time than himself and the
panel discussion's two other participants, the UN secretary general
Ban Ki-moon, and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League.
Peres had earlier made an impassioned defence of Israeli actions
in Gaza, asking Erdogan: "What would you do if you were to have
in Istanbul every night a hundred rockets?" Erdogan responded by
saying: "President Peres, you are older than me and your voice is very
loud. The reason for you raising your voice is the psychology of guilt
... I know very well how you hit and killed children on the beaches."
The prime minister's wife, Emine - who this month organised a Women
For Peace In Palestine lunch for the wives of Islamic dignitaries -
also became involved, bursting into tears after telling reporters that
"everything Peres said was a lie".
Erdogan's outburst was his most high-profile in a series of outspoken
attacks on Israel's Gaza operations. He had previously called the
offensive - in which around 1,300 Palestinians died - a "crime against
humanity" and demanded Israel's expulsion from the UN.
His stance has shocked Israeli officials - used to considering Turkey
as their closest regional ally - but played to the pro-Palestinian
sentiments of the overwhelmingly Muslim Turkish public. Mass
demonstrations in favour of Hamas have been staged in Istanbul and
Such sympathies have prompted suggestions that Erdogan's rhetoric has
been mainly for domestic political consumption and aimed at wooing
voters at forthcoming municipal elections in March. Jewish groups have
also voiced fears that the government's fierce anti-Israeli criticism
is fuelling antisemitism The row with Peres overshadowed a dispute
between the government and the International Montetary Fund that
had seen Erdgoan accuse the fund of setting unacceptable conditions,
after negotiations were suspended over a proposed loan to help Turkey
weather the economic recession.
On arriving at Ataturk airport, he depicted his Davos walk-out in
nationalist terms, telling journalists: "This was a matter of the
esteem and prestige of my country. I could not have allowed anyone
to poison the prestige and in particular the honour of my country."
He also denied his comments were aimed at the Israeli people or Jews in
general. A world economic forum spokesman said Peres spoke with Erdogan
on the phone after the debate and expressed his respect for Turkey.
However, some observers believe Erdogan has sacrificed Turkish foreign
policy, especially Turkey's self-appointed role as a regional mediator.
Before the Gaza hostilities Turkey had been mediating in negotiations
between Israel and Syria. There are also fears that the pro-Israel
lobby in the US will back moves to recognise the massacres of Armenians
by Ottoman forces in the first world war as genocide, a move Turkey
President Obama — I love saying those words — has momentarily united the world. Almost. Among the exceptions, though barely noticed by the mainstream media, is the estrangement of Turkey and Israel, previously staunch allies in the turbulent Middle East.
At first blush, this alliance may seem counterintuitive, but in fact it makes good strategic sense for both countries. Israel gets a warm working relationship with one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, while enriching Israel's all-important industrial-military complex. Less than two months ago, for instance, came the news of a deal worth $140-million to Israeli firms to upgrade Turkey's air force. In the hard-boiled, realpolitik terms that determine Israel's strategies, it's a no-brainer. Almost.
In return, Turkey gets military, economic and diplomatic benefits. But it also gets something less tangible, something that matters deeply for reasons hard for outsiders to grasp. As part of the Faustian bargain between the two countries, a succession of Israeli governments of all stripes has adamantly refused to recognize that in 1915 the Turkish government was responsible for launching a genocide against its Armenian minority. Some 1.5-million Armenian women, men and children were successfully killed.
I should make clear that this Israeli position is not held casually. On the contrary. Over the years Israelis, with a few notably courageous exceptions, have actually worked against attempts to safeguard the memory of the Armenian genocide. (The bible on this issue is the excellent book by an Israeli, Yair Auron, called The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide, 2003.)
For many, this may well be a pretty esoteric sidebar to the world's many crises. But readers need to understand that every Turkish government for almost a century now has passionately denied that a genocide took place at all. Yet the vast majority of disinterested scholars of genocide have publicly affirmed that it was indeed a genocide, one of the small number in the 20th century (with the Holocaust and Rwanda) that have incontestably met the definition set down in the UN's 1948 Genocide Convention.
For Armenians in the Western world, even after 94 years, nothing is more important than persuading other governments to recognize this. For Turkish authorities, even after 94 years, nothing is more important than preventing that recognition. In that pursuit, Israel has been perhaps Turkey's most powerful ally. After all, if the keepers of the memory of the Holocaust don't acknowledge 1915, why should anyone else?
But the Israeli-Turkish bargain goes well beyond Israel. Not only is Israel, of all the unlikely states in the world, a genocide denier, but also many established Jewish organizations in other countries, especially the United States, have followed suit. In the United States, those who argue that denying the Holocaust is psychologically tantamount to a second holocaust have taken the lead in pressuring presidents and Congress against recognizing the reality of 1915. Resolutions calling for recognition are regularly pushed by American-Armenians and their many supporters. Jewish groups regularly lead the opposition. Some believe that members of these groups in fact understand perfectly well the rights and wrongs of the case. But a mindset that backs any and all Israeli government initiatives trumps all else. And successfully. Repeated attempts in Congress to pass this resolution has failed, even though the list of nations that now recognizes the Armenian genocide has grown steadily and, thanks to Stephen Harper, now includes Canada.
It is this rather unseemly, if not unholy, Israeli-Turkish deal that has been among the many victims of the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. Whether the Israelis anticipated it or not, the Turkish government turned against its erstwhile ally with a vengeance, pulling few punches. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accused Israel of "perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents." Mr. Erdogan described Israel's attack on Gaza as "savagery" and a "crime against humanity."
Israel formally described this language as "unacceptable" and certain Israeli media outlets have raised the stakes. The Jerusalem Post editorialized that given Turkey's record of killing tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq, "we're not convinced that Turkey has earned the right to lecture Israelis about human rights." Israel's deputy foreign minister was even more pointed: "Erdogan says that genocide is taking place in Gaza. We [Israel] will then recognize the Armenian-related events as genocide." Suddenly, genocide turns into a geopolitical pawn.
It isn't easy to choose a winner in the cynicism stakes here. Here's what one Turkish columnist, Barcin Yinanc, shrewdly wrote: "When April comes, I can imagine the [Turkish] government instructing its Ambassador to Israel to mobilize the Israeli government to stop the Armenian initiatives in the U.S. Congress. I can hear some Israelis telling the Turkish Ambassador to go talk to Hamas to lobby the Congress."
I'm guessing some readers work on the naïve assumption that an event is deemed genocidal based on the facts of the case. Silly you. In the real world, you call it genocide if it bolsters your interests. If it doesn't, it's not. It's actually the same story as with preventing genocide.
What happens now? Candidate Obama twice pledged that he would recognize the Armenian claim of genocide. But so had candidate George W. Bush eight years earlier, until he was elected and faced the Turkish/Jewish lobby. Armenian-Americans and their backers are already pressing Mr. Obama to fulfill his pledge. With the Turkish-Israeli alliance deeply strained, the position of the leading Jewish organizations is very much in question this time. Whatever the outcome, be sure that politics, not genocide, will be the decisive factor.
Gerald Caplan, author of The Betrayal of Africa, writes frequently on issues related to genocide.
'Erdogan's remarks aid anti-Semitism'
Haviv Rettig Gur , THE JERUSALEM POST
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is encouraging expressions of anti-Semitism in his country by espousing biased views and wholeheartedly accepting the Hamas narrative of the recent Gaza fighting, a senior Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Erdogan blasted Israel throughout the fighting, called on it to be barred from the UN, accused it of using white phosphorus against Gaza civilians and charged it with other "inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."
Yet during the fighting, Erdogan "did not utter one word that placed even one percent of the responsibility for the conflict on Hamas," said the Israeli official. "He has utterly adopted the Hamas narrative."
One example cited by the official of Erdogan's alleged encouragement of anti-Semitic sentiments came in a January 13 speech to Turkey's parliament in which, moments after he claimed to oppose anti-Semitism, Erdogan accused Jews of controlling the media and intentionally targeting civilians.
"Media outlets supported by Jews are disseminating false reports on what happens in Gaza, finding unfounded excuses to justify targeting of schools, mosques and hospitals," Erdogan charged.
As the country's prime minister was lambasting Israel repeatedly, Turkey's Jewish community was experiencing "the worst situation in memory," said someone close to the community.
The community, estimated to number some 26,000, has seen a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of Israel's operation against Hamas.
At anti-Israel demonstrations throughout the country, demonstrators were seen carrying blatantly anti-Semitic signs. At a demonstration in the industrial city of Eskisehir, for example, signs read, "Dogs allowed, but no Jews or Armenians."
Posters placed on billboards throughout Istanbul showed bloodied children from Gaza, and addressed Jews directly, calling them "no sons of Moses."
An Istanbul newspaper published a caricature this week showing Hitler flying an Israel Air Force jet, while another called for the expulsion of Turkey's chief rabbi and claimed the Torah permitted Jews to murder their own parents.
In the weeks since the Gaza operation began, Jewish community institutions were targets - alongside Israel's diplomatic missions - of hundreds of e-mails, faxes and phone calls that included, in the words of the Israeli official, "blatant anti-Semitism and curses."
At least one store in Istanbul's old city saw a sign posted outside notifying shoppers to avoid it because it was owned by Jews. Israeli officials have also followed calls on Turkish Internet sites to boycott Jewish businesses. There are reports of Jewish doctors who are losing patients because the patients are unwilling to be treated by Jews.
"I feel worried, sad and scared for myself and for my country's future, which is leaning towards racism," Turkish-Jewish academic Leyla Navaro wrote in the Radikal newspaper, Reuters reported.
Despite Jewish concern from Israel and abroad, however, the Post could get almost no reaction from the local Jewish community.
Members of the Turkish Jewish community either did not return calls or refused to speak on the matter, with one Turkish Jew in Israel saying only that people "feel it's too sensitive to talk right now."
According to Israeli diplomatic sources, official Israeli-Turkish relations have not been harmed, and the close military cooperation between the two states continues.
There have, however, been reports of a 70 percent drop in Israeli tourism to Turkey.
Perhaps to allay opposition anger at home over Erdogan's apparent siding with Hamas, the country's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan called on Hamas to abandon its violent ways.
"Hamas should make a decision. Do they want to be an armed organization or a political movement?" he said.
Speaking to Turkish television station NTV, Babacan reiterated that both Israel and Turkey wished to maintain their strong strategic ties.
"The relations between Turkey and Israel are strategic relations," he said, but added what may have been a veiled warning: "In an environment in which Turkey's relations with Israel are non-existent, Israel's presence in the region will not be that easy. The Israelis also understand that."
Despite the apparent conciliatory tone of Babacan's remarks, Israeli officials say it is Erdogan who determines policy and sets the political tone in the country.
Criticism of Erdogan's comments have also come from inside Turkey. Opposition-supporting media have noted that the diplomatic row over Gaza and spate of anti-Semitic incidents could drive the US Jewish community toward the Armenians' side in the political battle in the US over congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide.
American Jewish groups were widely reported in the Turkish press to have complained to the Turkish government about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including the closure of synagogues in Izmir and anti-Jewish propaganda in Istanbul.
A call to the Turkish Embassy seeking comment was not returned.
TURKEY PUSHED INTO INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION
Jan 27 2009
ISTANBUL - Another criticism to Prime Minister Erdogan's harsh
words toward Israel comes from a former ambassador who argues that
the government's pro-Hamas stance pushes Turkey into international
isolation and damages the country's mediation potential
Criticizing Israel and projecting a pro-Hamas stance is pushing
Turkey into isolation in the international arena, Turkey's former
ambassador to Washington said in an interview with daily Milliyet
Stating that defending the Palestinian people and defending Hamas
was not the same thing, Logoglu said being closer to Hamas would mean
losing the role of mediator between Hamas and Fatah. "If Turkey was
able to preserve its previous distance to Hamas and El Fetih it would
be better for everyone. But right now Turkey is situated right next
to Hamas and against Israel and Fatah," he noted.
Logoglu said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had failed to keep
a balance in his criticism of Israel and Turkey's role as mediator
in the Middle East had been damaged, although not destroyed.
Furthermore, Erdogan's statements led to disappointment within Jewish
lobby groups, he said.
Hamas not political party
"The Jewish lobby is the strongest in the United States and the only
one supporting Turkey. Therefore, the letter of disappointment sent
to Erdogan is of great importance in terms of highlighting the future
of ties," Logoglu said.
When asked about Prime Minister Erdogan's statement that Hamas was
a democratically elected government, Logoglu said he did not think
Hamas was a political party. "A political party seeks to reach its
goals through political means. Hamas on the other hand is a party
and a terrorist organization," he said.
Commenting on remarks that Turkish foreign policy had taken a new
course under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Logoglu said
this was nothing new. "The policy of zero problem with neighbors
(voiced by the prime minister's adviser Ahmet Davutoglu) is not new
in Turkey. What's more, all the problems, including the Cyprus issue,
the Aegean problem and the problems with Armenia, remain unsolved,"