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May 23, 2018 12:25 pm

Turkeys’ Erdogan Is an Antisemite and a Regional Threat

avatar by Efraim Inbar / JNS.org

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Turkish President Erdoğan speaking at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London. Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls.

JNS.org – Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) have ruled Turkey since 2002. Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has gradually distanced itself from its Kemalist republican tradition and the West, adopting domestic and foreign policies fueled by Ottoman and Islamist impulses.

Erdogan’s frequent outbursts against Israel over the last decade are the result of a foreign-policy reorientation that no longer sees Israel as a strategic ally in a tough neighborhood and his desire to have good relations with the Muslim world. Like other Muslim states, Turkey has a soft spot for the Palestinians. Moreover, Erdogan genuinely dislikes Jews. He has a rich record of antisemitic statements, which burst forth in Pavlovian fashion following any Israeli-Palestinian clash.

Erdogan’s upbringing and political trajectory indicate that his movement is a Turkish version of the Muslim Brotherhood. Under this leader, Turkey has gradually adopted policies that amount to a wholesale attempt to Islamize the country. This includes putting restrictions on the sale of alcohol, enhancing the status of religious schools, encouraging the establishment of Muslim-oriented institutions of learning, and nominating Islamists to sensitive positions in the public and private sectors.

He has put Turkey on the road to authoritarianism. Infringements on human rights have gradually increased. In truth, Turkey has never had a political system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power around one politician. In recent years, Erdogan has further weakened the few constitutional constraints against the “Putinization” of the Turkish political system. Capitalizing on the failed coup in 2016, he pressed for a presidential political system, further centralizing power.

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The longer he rules, the more power-hungry he seems to become. His authoritarian personality becomes clearer every day. The Turkish press is hardly free. Erdogan arrests even Islamist journalists who are critical of his policies. His party has infiltrated the judicial system and the police. Many foci of power, such as the bureaucracy, the banking system, industrial associations, and trade unions have been mostly co-opted by the AKP. Opposition political parties are largely discredited. The military, once active in politics as the defender of the Kemalist secular tradition, has been successfully sidelined.

Islamism has also colored Turkish foreign policy under Erdogan. Despite the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO, its president is playing a double game in regard to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkey pretends to cooperate with the United States in the attempt to contain radical Islam, but actually supports ISIS. It has allowed the passage of volunteers through Turkish territory to join ISIS in Iraq. ISIS received logistical support via Turkey and sends its wounded militants for treatment in the country. Turkish military forces stood idly by as the besieged city of Kobani, just across the Turkish border, became a war zone with Islamists killing Kurdish fighters. Turkey has denied the American air force access to Turkish bases, forcing America to use more distant sites when attacking ISIS targets. ISIS remnants in Syria have found refuge in Turkish-controlled Syrian territory.

Turkey is also openly supporting another radical Islamist organization: Hamas. Despite the Western designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, Ankara regularly hosts Hamas representatives that meet the highest Turkish dignitaries. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas holds rabidly anti-American positions. Moreover, the Turkish branch of Hamas has been involved in a series of attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel and strengthen Hamas cells in the Palestinian Authority.

Turkey, a historic rival of Persia, even has warm relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Erdogan has admitted feeling more at ease in the bazaars of Tehran than on the Champs-Élysées. In June 2010, Turkey voted at the UN Security Council against a US-sponsored resolution meant to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran. It has also helped Iran to circumvent sanctions.

Israel has always shown an interest in having cordial relations with Turkey, an important regional power. Following last week’s mutual expulsion of diplomats, Jerusalem has no desire for further escalation. It is advisable to adopt a policy clearly distinguishing between the Erdogan government and the people of Turkey. The struggle over the soul of Turkey is not over yet, and sensible Turks may yet be able to overcome the current dark days.

Erdogan deserves to be portrayed as he is: an antisemitic Islamist, a ruthless dictator, and an impulsive bully. Yet Israel should resist the temptation to “punish” Turkey by adopting a resolution in the Knesset recognizing the “Armenian genocide” — an empty gesture that will only antagonize Turks of many political hues.

Israel should ring the alarm bells about Turkish adventurism. Under Erdogan, Turkey has become a dangerous country. It is challenging the agreed borders with Greece. It bullies Cyprus, a third of which is occupied by Turkish forces. It has a military presence in Iraq and Syria, and bases in Qatar and Sudan. It dreams of establishing a front against Israel on the Golan Heights.

Therefore, it is imperative that the US administration and Congress halt the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, as well as any other military equipment, in order to prevent the strengthening of the Turkish military. Erdogan’s Turkey is not a reliable Western ally. Strengthening the Turkish military might encourage Erdogan to engage in additional military adventures in the Middle East.

Turkey is a serious problem for Israel, but also for the moderate Sunni states and the West.

Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Institute.

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