Wednesday, April 14th | 2 Iyyar 5781

October 19, 2015 1:50 pm

President Erdogan: The Bully of Istanbul

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Almost everyone at some time during their youth has seen and experienced a form of bullying; some may have even been a bully themselves. It might have been a one-time incident, or it may have been a prolonged, torturous experience.

There are many reasons why children become bullies. Some have been physically or emotionally abused at home, and use the bullying as a way of acting out their pain. Others were never disciplined or instilled with proper values, and develop an addiction to the power of controlling and hurting others. Some also find that threatening harm to those weaker than them is an extremely effective tool of getting what they want, regardless of the years of pain their actions may leave their victim with.

Regardless of the pathology, there is one lesson that most people finally learn at one time or another about bullies. Bullies are usually cowards deep inside, and will only attack those they perceive as too weak to stand up to them. The moment a victim fights back against their bully, the bully usually starts having second thoughts about targeting their victim.

When they suddenly find that the costs of bullying outweigh the benefits, the bullies usually stop. Fortunately, most bullies grow up, and become civil adults who regret the deep pain they inflicted on others. But some bullies never change. That moment of catharsis, when they realize how wicked and destructive bullying is both to their victims and to themselves, never occurs — and they may even find that the bullying, combined with a deceptive charismatic charm and rightly timed smile, has allowed them to step on others to advance their egocentric goals in life.

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Few things are more off-putting than an adult bully whose personality and interactions are built around a cost benefit analysis in each situation of how far feigned kindness will get them as opposed to brutal harassment. Unfortunately politics and positions of power seem to be a fertile ground for these types of bully personalities, attracting them like flies to honey.

One such leader who has excelled in this area, and revealed to the world the tactics of a political bully, is current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Regretfully, he is one bully that has not yet been properly put in his place. He governs by using intimidating force, and attempts to coerce and threaten world leaders with tantrums, demanding they kowtow to his out-of-control ego. He has also bullies his own citizens, and has turned what was once a promising democratic nation that was strongly being considered for membership in the E.U. into a increasingly despotic, anti-democratic, hardline, Islamic-aligned state.

A famous victim of his bullying was the Vice President of the United States. In a speech at Harvard last October, Joe Biden revealed that Turkey has been one of the countries providing money and weapons to those fighting Assad’s regime, which includes radical Islamic elements like Al Nusra and Al Qaeda. Biden added that Turkey has let untold numbers over the border into Syria to fight with ISIS and become further radicalized.

The usual protocol between allies in this type of situation would involve a private discussion of the matter, and a civil, mutual face-saving clarification by both states. Yet the tantrum-throwing Erdogan, upon hearing of the event, publicly attempted to humiliate the Vice President and the U.S. by demanding an apology, and threatening that without one, Biden would become “history to me.”

When reading these words, one wonders if rather than the statements of a world leader, this is some dialogue from a character on Jersey Shore. The saddest ending to all of  this is that Biden dragged himself and the rest of the country through the mud, capitulating to the demands by apologizing — not once, but twice. This event is particularly ironic seeing as how much time and emphasis the Obamas have put into promoting their anti-bullying legislation. It is wonderful that they have pushed to help protect innocent children against bullies, but sad that they are impotent to protect their own Vice President.

This appeasement has not been limited to Biden’s case alone. There was also the Mavi Marmara ship incident in 2010. When a group of six ships embarked from Turkey in an attempt to challenge Israel’s blockade of Hamas, Israel intervened and boarded the first five ships without incident. But on the sixth ship, Israeli forces were met with violence, beatings, and stabbings by approximately 40 passengers. One can watch the video and see how Israeli troops were viciously attacked and beaten on the deck of the ship. Israeli forces had no choice but to defend themselves and retrieve their captured comrades who had been forced down into the ship. The ensuing battle resulted in the deaths of nine of the Turkish attackers. Erdogan used this excuse to condemn Israel and break down much of the diplomatic closeness the two countries once shared.

One of the jihadists from the ship was recently killed while fighting for ISIS by an American strike, which gives an idea of the motivation of those on the ship. But in dealing with the situation, Erdogan chose to slander the Jewish state, saying he would not restore ties without compensation for the attackers’ deaths, and once again, he demanded an apology. Perhaps in the belief that an apology would improve ties, Israel did apologize and pony up. But Erdogan’s invective against the Jewish state has since only grown worse. After the apology, Erdogan simply found other reasons to be enraged at Israel and continue his anti-Israel policies and rhetoric.

Erdogan’s history of bullying does not stop there. At the 2009 Davos conference, he verbally attacked and acted extremely disrespectfully to elder Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, as well as to all other attendees at the conference. When the discussions on stage had formally ended, Erdogan demanded of the moderator more time to speak. After ranting against Israel, the mediator politely tried to bring the session to a close so that they could all proceed to a scheduled dinner. However Erdogan ignored him, speaking over the moderator and continuing his attack while pushing away the hand of the man next to him who was trying to calm the situation. No one stood up to this adolescent tirade. Erdogan then unceremoniously proclaimed that he would never return to Davos and stormed out, in the presence of the dignitaries on stage.

Erdogan’s bullying is not limited to political leaders. His increasingly tyrannical rule has caused him to clamp down on the personal freedoms of Turkish citizens.

When I visited Turkey in 2014, I was denied access to Twitter and YouTube, along with the rest of Turkey’s nearly 75 million people. The reason? Erdogan was attempting to hide his own corruption, when it was revealed in a secret audio recording that he had told his son to stash hundreds of millions of ill begotten cash in his own house. Erdogan also arrested and attacked thousands of Turkish citizens after last year’s protest’s against his corrupt undemocratic rule, which has seen Turkey becoming bedfellows with Iran and Islamic extremism to the detriment of this once promising democracy.

Erdogan’s bullying doesn’t end there, however. In 1492, during the Spanish expulsion of the Jews, a large number were able to escape and find safe refuge in Turkey. Sultan Bajazet was happy to have them in his country. He famously stated in regards to his newly arrived Jewish subjects, “How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king, the same Ferdinand who impoverished his own land and enriched ours?” The sultan saw the many benefits the Jewish people’s culture and knowledge would bring his country.

Unfortunately, Turkeys current day wannabe sultan has chosen the path of Ferdinand of Aragon over that of Sultan Bajazet. A newspaper affiliated with Erdogan tried intimidating and threatening Turkey’s Jewish community during Israel’s 2014 Gaza offensive. It demanded that Turkey’s Jews publicly apologize for the so-called crimes of Israel. Apparently, in an ever-increasing hostile environment for religious minorities, Erdogan is doing all he can to bully his Jewish subjects. Well, he has definitely succeeded in driving out large numbers of the Jewish population, who have left for Israel and Europe — bringing with them the skills and know-how that Turkey will now have to do without.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including the upcoming “Israel Warrior’s Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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