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March 22, 2016 6:42 am

Realism Is Needed on Turkey

avatar by Judith Bergman

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Wikipedia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Wikipedia.

In the wake of Saturday’s terrorist atrocity in Istanbul, in which three Israelis were killed and 10 wounded (amid ‎a total of four killed and 36 wounded), an official from President Erdogan’s ruling Justice and ‎Development Party (AKP), Irem Aktas, who was the head of the party’s media relations and women’s outreach ‎department, tweeted, “I wish the wounded Israeli tourists were all dead.” She was subsequently ‎fired. ‎

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emanuel Nahshon said that the ministry was “examining this issue ‎with the Turkish Foreign Ministry. If [the tweet] is true, this is a shocking and ugly statement and we ‎expect [the Turkish government] to apologize and distance itself from the statement.”‎

Ugly? Certainly. A reason for grown men to cry out in shock? Hardly. ‎

For one thing, the fact that Erdogan’s Islamist AKP turned out to harbor a virulent antisemite and ‎anti-Israeli employee is not exactly surprising. It would be far more shocking if this were not the case. It is ‎a pretty safe bet that Aktas is far from the only one. ‎

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It would seem that a reminder is in order as to what Israel’s problems with Turkey are really about, lest ‎we confuse ourselves with irrelevant details, such as the tweets of lowly AKP bureaucrats.‎

Since Erdogan broke onto the public scene in Turkey as a mere 20-year-old playwright, directing and ‎starring in his own antisemitic play, “Maskomya,” he has dedicated his career to transforming secular, ‎European-oriented Turkey into an Islamist state, intrinsically hostile to Israel. Erdogan has repeatedly and ‎vehemently rejected Western attempts to portray his rule as an example of “moderate Islam,” ‎declaring that such a concept is “ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam.” He has ‎also remained a staunch anti-Semite and anti-Zionist.‎

As a young man, Erdogan embarked upon a career in Islamist movements and parties, in direct opposition ‎to the secular Kemalists, whose goal it was to keep Turkey a secular democracy with religion a wholly ‎private matter. One of the parties that Erdogan was active in, the Refah party, was described by ‎renowned Turkish historian Soner Cagaptay as “an explicitly Islamist party, which featured strong anti-‎Western, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-secular elements.” ‎Erdogan was arrested and convicted for religious incitement in 1998 after Refah was banned by Turkey’s constitutional court.‎

When Erdogan returned on the scene in 2002 with the AKP, his Islamist credentials could hardly be swept ‎under the rug in a Turkey that was still committed to a secular state. So what do you do if you want to ‎appear palatable to the secularists and the West? You introduce Shariah in a piecemeal fashion, slowly ‎and cautiously. That is what Erdogan has done, gradually bringing all of what were once secular ‎bulwarks against Islamists under his own Islamist sphere of influence — the educational system, the courts ‎and even the army. ‎

One result has been a deterioration of women’s rights, something that Erdogan is not very shy ‎about, declaring as he did in November 2014 that “men and women are not equal; it is against nature.” ‎Since Erdogan came into power with his Islamist agenda, honor killings, forced marriages, as well as under‎age marriages have exploded with around 30-35% of all marriages in Turkey involving underage girls, ‎rising in rural southeastern Turkey to 75%. Domestic violence against women is reckoned to have ‎reached epidemic proportions with 300 to 400 women killed by their partners every year since 2006.‎

More relevant to Israel, Erdogan consciously and deliberately destroyed the unique relationship between ‎Israel and Turkey that existed prior to his accession, especially in the military and intelligence fields, and ‎he has openly and unabashedly embraced and supported Israel’s enemies — Hamas and Hezbollah in ‎particular. He strongly condemned Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin ‎and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi as “state terrorism,” and he was very quick to host Hamas after it won the ‎elections in 2006. Conferences featuring the Muslim Brotherhood, including its chief jurist and cleric, ‎Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, Hamas, were hosted in ‎Turkey, for example the Muslims of Europe Conference in July 2006 and the World Popular Conference ‎for the Support of Palestine in May 2009, also featuring Qaradawi, Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian ‎Islamic Jihad.‎

Most publicized was Erdogan’s covert sponsorship of the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, which set out to ‎deliberately provoke and confront the IDF. In the years from Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (2008) and ‎leading up to the Mavi Marmara debacle, Erdogan’s rhetoric toward Israel became increasingly ‎inflammatory. He called Gaza a “concentration camp” and told then-President Shimon Peres at the World ‎Economic Forum in Davos that “I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches.” A diplomatic outrage, ‎to be sure. ‎

The Mavi Marmara ship was led by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a jihadist organization ‎posing as a “charity” outfit with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and with very close connections to ‎Erdogan’s AKP. After the ship returned to Turkey, having brutally attacked and wounded nine Israeli ‎soldiers, including slashing open the Israeli commander’s stomach, leaving his guts to hang out, the ‎jihadists were given a heroic welcome by Erdogan. He squarely blamed Israel for the result of the Turkish ‎provocation — nine IHH members were killed during the fight and a 10th later died of his wounds — and, ‎insanely, demanded an apology.‎

In December 2015, Israel acquiesced when it agreed to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation in return ‎for a normalization of the relations — which were unilaterally destroyed by Erdogan — as well as the ‎expelling of a senior member of Hamas’ military wing and the limiting of Hamas activities in Turkey in ‎general. Seen from Ankara, this agreement could only be considered a huge victory for Turkey, which ‎attained the promise of compensation from Israel for committing an illegal action — an act of war, one might ‎argue — against the latter. ‎

Now that Israel and Turkey are normalizing relations, it is not very opportune for either side that ‎an AKP employee, however inconsequential, reminds everyone with her hateful, anti-Israeli tweet that ‎agreements in themselves are not capable of changing substantial realities on the ground. The hostility ‎that Erdogan has managed to whip up against Israel since he first came into power nearly a decade and a ‎half ago is not going to dissipate simply because we are “shocked” by its ugliness. This is the Turkey that ‎Erdogan wanted, the Turkey that he has spent a decade and a half transforming. Anyone who thinks that ‎an agreement between Israel and Turkey — especially one that so blatantly bows to Turkey — can ‎change that can only be described as naive.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom. 

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