Last Thursday, two Turkish businessmen stopped for lunch in a fish restaurant during a business trip to Edirne in the Babaeski region.
At some point during their meal, the restaurant owner figured out that they were Jews.
Rather than show them the hospitality Turkey is renowned for, he said he won’t serve Jews, and began cursing them and the Torah. He then took a long knife off the counter and threatened to kill them.
The men ran for their lives.
Anti-Semitic attacks have become regular events in Turkey. In December, after leaving an anti-corruption rally in Istanbul, a young woman was attacked by 10 to 15 supporters of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan who had just left a support rally for the premier.
They accused her of being a Jew, as they beat her up.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Turkish opposition MP Ayken Kerdemir said that Erdogan has cultivated Turkish anti-Semitism. “He is not only capitalizing on the existing sentiments, Kerdemir explained. Erdogan is “fueling some of that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic feeling… with his rhetoric, conspiracy theories, campaign slogans and actions.”
Kerdemir explained that Erdogan’s cultivation of anti-Semitism in Turkish society will continue to affect Turkey’s behavior and social values long after he is gone. “Even after Erdogan and AKP are gone, even if [the opposition party] CHP comes to power, it will take us quite some time to mend inter-societal relations through dialogue, awareness raising and sensitivity training.”
Once you let that genie out of the bottle, it is very hard to stuff it back inside.
Erdogan’s anti-Semitism is not opportunistic. He isn’t simply exploiting a popular prejudice for his own benefit. He is an anti-Semite. And his anti-Semitism informs his behavior toward Israel.
In Kerdemir’s view, Erdogan’s uncontrollable hatred of Jews makes it impossible for him to agree to reconcile Turkey’s relations with Israel.
As he put it, “Erdogan’s core values vis-à-vis Jews and Israel prevent him from dealing with this issue in a tolerant, embracing and sustainable way.”
Against this backdrop it should surprise no one that this week Erdogan sunk prospects for a renewal of Turkish ties with Israel.
Immediately after he took office 10 years ago, Erdogan began systematically downgrading Turkey’s strategic alliance with Israel. This process, which began gradually and accelerated after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, reached its peak in 2010.
In May 2010, Erdogan sponsored the pro-Hamas flotilla to Gaza whose aim was to undermine Israel’s lawful maritime blockade of the terrorist-controlled Gaza coast. The flotilla’s flagship, theMavi Marmara, was controlled by the al-Qaida-aligned IHH organization. Its passengers included terrorists who, armed with iron bars, knives and other weaponry tried to kill IDF naval commandos when they boarded the Gaza-bound ship to enforce the blockade. In the ensuing battle, the commandos killed nine IHH terrorists.
Erdogan used the incident on the Mavi Marmara as a means of ending what remained of Turkey’s ties to Israel. For three years, he insisted that he would only restore full diplomatic relations if Israel ended its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, apologized for its forces’ actions on board the Mavi Marmara, and paid reparations to the families of the IHH terrorists killed in their assault on the IDF commandos.
In March 2013, Erdogan relented in his demand that Israel end the blockade and acceded to a reconciliation deal offered by US President Barack Obama in a three-way telephone call with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that took place during Obama’s visit to Israel.
Following the phone call, Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors,” by IDF sailors aboard theMavi Marmara and offered to compensate the families.
Negotiations toward the reinstatement of diplomatic relations were to ensue immediately. But just after Netanyahu made his required gesture of appeasement, Erdogan began delaying the talks, while continuing his anti-Semitic assaults.
Talks eventually did start. And according to Israeli sources, they were about to conclude this week. Netanyahu was beginning to build political support for his decision to agree to Turkey’s demand for a massive $20 million settlement of claims against Israel by the dead terrorists’ families.
But then Erdogan walked away.
On Tuesday, Erdogan reinstated his initial demand that Israel must end its lawful naval blockade of terrorist-controlled Gaza before he restores ties to the Jewish state.
In many quarters of the Israeli media, Erdogan’s action was met with surprise. Reporters who for years have insisted that Israel can make the problem go away by bowing to Erdogan’s demands are stumped by his behavior.
But they shouldn’t have been.
It isn’t simply that Erdogan cannot reconcile with Israel because he hates Jews. As is almost always the case with anti-Semites, Erdogan’s anti-Semitism is part of his general authoritarian outlook informed by a paranoid mindset.
Erdogan sees a Jewish conspiracy behind every independent power base in Turkey. And his rejection of Israel is an integral part of his rejection of all forces in Turkey that are not dependent on his good offices.
Over the past 10 years, and with ever increasing brutality, paranoia and intensity, Erdogan has sought to destroy all independent power bases in the country. He purged the military by placing hundreds of generals in prison in his delusional Ergenekon conspiracy in which they were accused of seeking to overthrow his Islamist government.
He has destroyed most of the independent media in the country and sent hundreds of journalists and editors to prison.
The same is the case with independent businessmen.
Over the past year, Erdogan destroyed whatever remained of the plausible deniability he initially fostered between himself and the systematic abrogation of civil rights and the rule of law in Turkey.
This week, 17 people were sentenced to two years each in prison for “deliberately insulting the premier and not regretting their actions,” during a small demonstration in 2012 protesting the government’s health policy.
Also this week, Erdogan acknowledged that he calls television broadcasters in the middle of news shows and orders them to stop the broadcast of information he doesn’t want the public to know. This has included ending the live broadcast of a speech in parliament by the opposition leader, ending coverage of the mass anti-government demonstrations last summer, and removing a news ticker that reported on the corruption scandals surrounding Erdogan and his cronies.
Erdogan has also reacted to the corruption investigations of his cronies by firing the public prosecutors and police officers involved in the investigations.
To maintain the public’s support for his burgeoning dictatorship, Erdogan has adopted populist economic policies that have sunk the Turkish economy. To buy the public’s allegiance, Erdogan has borrowed heavily internationally and artificially lowered Turkey’s interest rates, even as the local currency dropped in value in international markets and Turkey’s current accounts deficits outpaced Greece’s on the eve of its economic meltdown.
As David Goldman explained last week in a financial analysis of Turkey’s incipient economic meltdown in The Asia Times, rather than raise consumer interests rates, Erdogan has blamed the Jews by railing against “the interest rate lobby.”
Indeed, since he first invoked the term during the anti-government demonstrations last August, Erdogan has taken to blaming the interest rate cabal for all of Turkey’s woes.
Goldman argues that part of Turkey’s credit crisis owes to its apparent reliance on interbank loans from Saudi Arabia. In part due to their anger at Erdogan for his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis have apparently stopped loaning to Turkish banks.
The Saudis’ action has pushed Erdogan into the waiting arms of Iran’s ayatollahs. In an interviewwith Business Insider, Australia, terror financing expert Jonathan Schanzer said Turkey and Iran were able to minimize the impact of the international sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. Between June 2012 and June 2013, the Turkish-Iranian “gas for gold” sanctions-busting scheme brought Iran $13 billion in hard currency.
Erdogan’s hatred of Jews, his authoritarian mindset and his Islamist ideology informed his decision to transform Turkey into one of the leading sponsors of terrorism. In addition to its massive support for Hamas, beginning in the 2006 First Lebanon War Turkey began providing assistance to Hezbollah.
Then there is al-Qaida. Turkey has long harbored al-Qaida financiers. And according to IDF Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Turkey hosts three al-Qaida bases on its territory that enable terrorists to transit between Europe and Syria.
Erdogan’s ideological underpinning directs his embrace of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaida. But his decimation of Turkey’s economy has made him view Iran as Turkey’s economic savior. And that in turn pushes Turkey even deeper into the jihadist camp.
Obviously in this situation, the chance that Turkey will agree to reconcile with Israel, at any price, is nil.
The surprise that many Israeli journalists have expressed over Erdogan’s seeming about-face on the reconciliation deal brings us to the larger lesson of his transformation of Turkey.
These journalists believe that Israel’s bilateral relations with other countries are based on tit for tat. If I do something to upset you, you will get upset. If I apologize and try to make things right, then you will be satisfied and everything will go back to normal.
This simplistic view of the world is attractive because it places Israel in a position of power. If the only reason that Turkey is mad at Israel is that Israel will not apologize for its response to Turkey’s illegal aggression, then Israel should apologize and pay whatever damages Erdogan demands.
Moreover, Israel should make Erdogan believe the sincerity of its apology by maintaining faith with the myth that he is a responsible actor on the world stage, rather than a prominent sponsor of terrorism and the hangman of Turkish democracy and economic prosperity.
Appeasement is a seductive policy because it is gives its purveyors a sense of empowerment. And at times, when faced with a simple, limited dispute it can work.
But Turkey’s rejection of Israel is not a linear response to a specific Israeli action. It is a consequence of the nature of Erdogan’s regime, and due to his anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement, it is increasingly a consequence of the nature of Turkish society.
Kerdemir argued that Turkish anti-Semitism does not necessitate a rejection of Jews and Israel. And that’s true.
The problem is that when anti-Semitism is tied to several other political and economic pathologies, as it is in the case of Turkey, it is impossible as a practical matter for any accommodation to be reached.
THE SWORD-WIELDING restaurateur who responded to the mere presence of Jewish diners in his establishment with murderous rage is no more exceptional than lynch mobs in Ramallah. And as Turkey’s economic plight worsens and Erdogan’s embrace of Iran and jihadist groups tightens, Turkey’s behavior will only become more extreme, unappeasable and dangerous.