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April 4, 2019 9:24 am

Turkey, Ukraine, and Israel: An Electoral Comparison Not to Take for Granted

avatar by Ruthie Blum /


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for a photo as they visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 1, 2019. Photo: Menahem Kahana / Pool via Reuters.

JNS.orgAhead of next week’s Knesset elections, Israelis disgusted with the ugliness of the current campaign would do well to consider the results of Sunday’s ballots in Turkey and Ukraine.

Let’s begin with the latter, as a bit of comic relief — in this case, literally — is always welcome. Yes, the person who garnered the majority of votes in Ukraine’s presidential election is comedic actor Volodymyr Zelensky, the star of a popular TV series about a schoolteacher who becomes president as a result of a rant against corruption that goes viral on YouTube. Apparently, his performance in Servant of the People was so convincing that it caused the public to want him in the role for real.

Talk about life imitating art.

The final tally is not over yet, however. As neither Zelensky nor the other leading contenders — incumbent President Petro O. Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — received more than 50 percent of the votes, a second round will be held on April 21 to determine the actual winner. Still, things are looking good for the young actor vying for the part of a lifetime.

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That he is a Jew who possibly converted to Christianity doesn’t appear to be a hindrance to his chances one way or the other. But reports that his campaign was funded by mega-rich Jewish businessman Igor Kolomoisky — owner of the network that broadcast Servant of the People — might be his downfall. Ukrainians are fed up with “oligarchs” corrupting their political system, which is why they were so enthusiastic about Zelensky in the first place. Or at least about the character that he played on TV. Whether they believe his vehement denial of the Kolomoisky connection remains to be seen.

Ukrainians are used to being sold this particular bill of goods by their leaders.

Israelis bitching and moaning about “crony capitalism” thus could easily elicit a few laughs from their eastern European counterparts.

Turkey is a different story, of course, with far more tragedy than comedy, both internally and on the world stage, and certainly for the Jewish state, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan views and treats as a mortal enemy. Being an Islamist antisemite engaged in a love affair with Hamas will do that.

Which is why Israelis should take temporary pleasure in the humiliation that he suffered at the ballot box two days ago. Although his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged generally victorious in his country’s municipal elections, his top picks for Turkey’s two most important cities, Ankara and Istanbul, suffered a decisive, slam-dunk blow.

Being a liar and a tyrant — whose solution for political woes is to imprison any and all members of the public, judicial system, law-enforcement agencies, media outlets, and academia whom he considers disloyal — Erdogan is both putting a spin on and delegitimizing the vote. The loss, he announced on Monday, was actually a big win for the AKP. Nevertheless, by Tuesday, the AKP had begun the process of demanding a recount.

“We will respect the results regardless of the outcome, as it is our people’s choice,” said AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik.

There’s a hoot for you. Erdogan and his henchmen have never respected the people of Turkey, and they’re not about to start doing so now. Furthermore, they know that their sword is mightier than any election official’s pen. The “people’s choice,” therefore, is a two-fold joke, no matter what a recount reveals.

In the first place, Erdogan’s dastardly apparatus is capable of terrorizing any mayor who makes his life difficult, even where garbage collection is concerned.

Secondly, when he assumed office yet again last July, Erdogan granted himself even greater powers than he had grabbed after the failed coup against him in the summer of 2016. He stripped the parliament of many previous functions and dissolved state institutions he feared would get in his way. His practice of silencing critics and arresting anyone accused of “insulting the president” was able to continue unfettered.

This does not mean that the results of the local elections in Ankara and Istanbul are insignificant. On the contrary, they indicate that the efforts of the opposition bloc, headed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), bore fruit. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Erdogan is not up for reelection until 2023, thus enabling his autocratic reign to go unchecked for another four years.

Israelis across the political spectrum have been talking a lot lately about “fearing” the results of Tuesday’s election. This is not only preposterous when contrasted with the situation in Turkey, but also reeks of ingratitude towards Israeli democracy.

Yes, it matters who heads the next government. True, if there is a clear winner, half the country will be commiserating over their morning cappuccinos. It is also a fact that in the absence of a definitive victory for one of the two major parties, the formation of a coalition will drag on, causing everybody some degree of anxiety.

But the only real threat to the well-being and safety of Israelis — as it has been since the inception of the Jewish state — is that which comes from external enemies and their apologists bent on its destruction.

The Israeli electorate should take a minute to stop taking that for granted.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring’.

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