In a Vienna speech last week, Turkey’s Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan branded Zionism as a “crime against humanity”, comparing it to Islamaphobia, fascism and antisemitism. Reacting to the statement, President Peres said, “I regret it very much. It raises the flames of hatred — totally unnecessary and completely unfounded. So this is one of the regretful experiences of recent days.” American Secretary of State John Kerry said at an Ankara news conference that the Obama Administration found Erdogan’s declaration “objectionable” and he stressed the “urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that it was “unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered …” But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was not repentant.
“If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey; it needs to review its attitude. It needs to review it’s attitude toward us, and it needs to review its attitude toward the people in the region and especially the West Bank settlements issue. If a country violates openly and clearly the right to live of our own people, we will always preserve the right to come up with statements [and] come up with remarks.”
In defending Erdogan’s remarks, Davutoglu referred to the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard a ship that tried to run an Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010. At the time Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government were widely criticized for intercepting the flotilla of which the ship was a part. Many argued that the Netanyahu government should apologize to the Turks for the deaths of the activists. I thought I that the criticism of Netanyahu and the Israelis was grossly unfair, and I said so in columns that I was writing at the time, While many journalists portrayed the participants as idealists and martyrs, I wrote about the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, who had no such illusions. He wrote:
“A real ‘Freedom Flotilla’ would have sailed to Gaza to liberate it from its rulers. For Hamas stifles Gaza from within while Israel stifles it from without. It oppresses the Palestinians who live under its sway and has brought them to ruin.”
Then Wieseltier challenged the flotilla’s left-wing participants. “When did it become progressive to support a theocracy.” Still, Wieseltier mercilessly attacked the Netanyahu government. He claimed that the violence on the ship was “the inevitable consequence of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cunning pronouncements last year [in 2010] that Israel is now endangered by ‘the Iran threat, the missile threat, and what I call the Goldstone threat’.” Wieseltier asserted, “The equivalence was misleading and therefore dangerous. Ideological warfare is not military warfare” Wieseltier wrote further,
“‘This was no love boat,” Netanyahu said … “It was a hate boat.’ He is right. But so what? The threat of delegitimation is not a military problem and it does not have a military solution. And the attempt to give it a military solution has now had the consequence of making that threat still greater”
For Wieseltier, Netanyahu’s handling of the flotilla crisis was a manifestation of a far bigger problem.
“Netanyahu is the creature of the bunker. He talks about peace but not like a man who hungers for it, He takes no steps toward peace except as the consequence of a crisis — a crisis not with the Palestinians but with the Americans. He liturgically intones his warnings; some of them true; mistakes brutishness for toughness and offers nothing.”
There is only a kernel of truth in this critique. The threat post by the flotilla and more generally from Gaza is not existential and Netanyahu was wrong to characterize as such. But, in Wieseltier’s words, “So what?” Wieseltier assertion that Netanyahu ordered the attack on the flotilla because the activists on board were Israel-haters is absurd. There can be military threats to a country without those threats being existential. At the time of the attack, Israel’s southern villages and cities were being constantly being bombarded by rockets from Gaza. Surely, Israel had and continues to have the obligation to protect the residents of these communities. Israel imposed the military blockade on Gaza to prevent the importation of rockets that would eventually be fired on Israel. Without intercepting the ships trying to run it, the blockade would, of course, be rendered totally ineffective.
Nothing that the Netanyahu government has done justifies Erdogan’s outburst. Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine anything that there is anything Israel could do that would justify Erdogan’s outburst. For the Turkish President didn’t even restrict his criticize Israel as a country. He attacked Zionism — the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Where else in the world does the international community allow the opponents of a particular government policies to challenge the legitimacy of a people’s right to self-determination? (Palestine is not an answer to this question. All Palestinians nationalists want to do nothing other than to take away the national rights of the Jewish people).By asserting that Netanyahu’s policies have advanced the cause to delegitimize Israel, Wieseltier himself implicitly bestows unwarranted legitimacy on the effort.
Erdogan’s declaration also adds to a mountain of evidence showing that the Arabs — and not Israel — determine whether their relationship with Israel is defined in military terms. How, after all, is Israel is supposed to make peace with a country whose leader declares that the Jewish national movement to be a “crime against humanity”? Erdogan’s remarks shouldn’t have come a surprise. The Arab world wasn’t willing to live with a Jewish State when Israel came to in 1948. The liberal Israeli historian Benny Morris says that the Arabs attacked Israel when it came into existence largely because their Islamic faith didn’t allow to live at peace with a Jewish State. Morris believes that the Arabs’ religious beliefs still prevent them from making peace with the Israelis. As for Israel’s failure to resolve its dispute with the Palestinians, the Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in Canada’s Globe and Mail during 2011,
“Mr. Abbas, along with other Palestinian leaders, insists he will never accept a Jewish state. In opposing the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, Palestinian leaders have exposed the real obstacle to Middle East peace; not the creation of a Palestinian state, which most Israelis support, but the existence of a Jewish state, which most Palestinians reject.
If Erdogan characterizes Zionism as a “crime against humanity” how can Netanyahu be blamed for the deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey? Similarly, without any Palestinian leader willing to make peace with Israel, on what basis can anyone judge for whether Netanyahu — or for that matter anyone else — in Israel is really interested in peace? Erdogan’s speech also conclusively shows that the pressure on Netanyahu to apologize for Israel’s handling of the flotilla affair was misplaced. Rather, people like Wieseltier who have vilified and slandered Israel’s Prime Minister owe Netanyahu and Israel an apology, Such an apology would implicitly acknowledge the Arab world’s responsibility for the absence of peace — and make progress to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict possible.