Throughout most of its existence, the state of Israel has enjoyed positive relations with Turkey. Turkey was the first Muslim country to officially recognize Israel in 1949, and throughout most of the 20th century relations were characterized by strong trade partnerships and technological transfers.
The rise to power of Erdogan and the accompanying paradigm shift in Turkish politics has changed this. It is unclear whether his political ascendancy (first as mayor of Istanbul and then as prime minister in 2003) was symptomatic of a shift in Turkish attitudes or whether his party shifted the Turkish political discourse. What is very clear though, is that the Turkey that elected in 2003 a leader who went on to call a political rival a “spawn of Israel” as an insult, is a very different Turkey from that which Ataturk built up throughout the 1920s.
It isn’t necessary here and now that we go over everything that has happened since Erdogan first became prime minister in 2003. We could address, for example, his efforts to turn Turkey into a one-party state by prosecuting and arresting the opposition – most notably when he stripped the third largest party, the HDP, of parliamentary immunity, allowing for their MPs to be prosecuted on false charges.
We could also discuss, let’s say, his annihilation of press freedoms, such as when he orchestrated the takeover of opposition newspaper Zaman by raiding its offices and threatening its editors, turning it into the most pro-government newspaper in the country overnight.
If I had the time I could go into some of the disturbing work of Turkish intelligence services, such as how they transported weapons to ISIS inside Syria, as well as supporting them by bombing the Peshmerga and the YPG forces that were desperately trying to defend their cities and towns against the Islamist murderers.
And if I were to talk about that, I might even mention how Turkey is actually carrying out air strikes and artillery strikes on its own cities, such as Nusaybin, in what is tantamount to an attempt of genocide against the city’s majority Kurdish population.
But let’s not get into any of that.
Late last month, Turkey and Israel agreed a deal to normalize ties after years of rocky relations following the Turkish flotilla incident. This happened in a wider context of Turkish rapprochement, with Erdogan reportedly also reaching out to Syria to normalize ties with the government there despite supporting ISIS against it for a number of years.
And now a spectacularly poorly staged ‘coup’ has occurred at a most expedient time for Erdogan’s government, which is no longer allowing the US to carry out air strikes against ISIS from inside its borders. Over 3000 soldiers and another 3000 judges and prosecutors were arrested over the weekend – the trials of the accused soldiers will no doubt go very smoothly as soon as the AKP approves the new judges from its list of payees.
We have watched in recent years as Turkey has become its very own kind of Islamic North Korea, and the latest coup, which is already being suspected as a false flag by many governments worldwide, reinforces that view.
If the government of Israel is naive enough to assume that the cultural and political transformation of Turkey into an Islamic autocracy will have no effect on its own citizens, they’re dead wrong. Don’t forget that in an Istanbul bombing earlier this year in which Israeli citizens were injured a Turkish official tweeted “I wish that the wounded #Israeli tourists were dead”.
Is this the kind of country that will stick to any deals it makes with Israel?
Is this the kind of country that will ensure its Jewish and Israeli residents and visitors will be treated well?
Is this the kind of country that Israel should be friends with?
No, no, and no.
I would hesitate before describing something as evil. Erdogan, the AKP, and the Turkish government have blood on their hands, and my Kurdish friends and colleagues often do not hesitate in using the word evil to describe them. There is a better referent, though, in the Arabic word ẓulm (ظلم). Zulm refers to injustice, cruelty, wickedness, the willful failure to fulfill obligations, and in the context of government, tyranny. The word fits very well with the state of Turkey as it functions today.
Israel has enough PR problems to deal with; the consequences of publicly endorsing a state that unapologetically engages in ẓulm to the level that Erdogan does would result in no good. While none of us know where Turkey will end up, we can all see that it is on a path; a path that is now looking frighteningly similar to the same path that Germany took in the 1930s.
For reasons which the Jewish people themselves ought to know best, Israel must not follow Turkey down this path. There are better allies to choose from.