Realism Is Needed on Turkey
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.
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.