The Turkish presidential elections are significant for the interests of Israel and the Jewish community. Following President Herzog’s visit to Türkiye last year, a rapid process of improvement in Israel-Türkiye relations began. As parliamentary members and the president will be elected in the elections to be held in mid-May, this process will be a critical turning point for Israel-Türkiye relations.
There are three candidates against Turkish President Erdogan, and this time Erdogan, who won every election he entered, has a really tough job. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who will enter the election with the support of most parties and politicians, Muharrem İnce, who received a substantial number of votes in the previous presidential elections, and Sinan Oğan, who has a rising vote potential with his charisma and nationalist policy, have eyes on Erdoğan’s seat. As such, I wanted to analyze the four candidates for the interests of Israel and the Jewish community.
Therefore, the interests of Israel and the Jewish community require an analysis of the four candidates. The re-establishment of Türkiye-Israel relations is crucial for Türkiye’s presence and political stance in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the period when Israel-Türkiye relations were severed, Israel filled the void with Greece, and Türkiye’s balance was disrupted because it did not develop alliances with countries like Egypt beforehand. Türkiye tried to protect its economic rights by signing an agreement with Libya. However, Israel re-established bilateral relations with Türkiye by putting its implicit relationship with Gulf countries into open diplomatic channels through the Abraham Accords and tried to avoid losing power in the regional equation.
“President Erdoğan: Not too bad for Israel”
For over 20 years, President Erdoğan, who has had strong support from the Nationalist Movement Party and has pursued policies that could be seen as antisemitic, is a leader who does not overlook the relationship between Israel and Türkiye. Despite frequently presenting Palestine as a political cause to his mostly Muslim population, Erdoğan is not a leader who is irredeemably hostile to Israel and the Jewish community. Contrary to what is known, Erdoğan has never been a leader who terminated relations with Israel. While not always publicized by the press, Israeli-Turkish relations have often progressed in Israel’s favor behind closed doors, and this is likely to continue after Erdoğan’s re-election. Although President Erdoğan has stated that this election will mark the end of his term in office, the political significance of the May election may well mean the end of his political career.
“Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: Erdoğan’s biggest rival and in contact with Knesset members”
The leader of the main opposition party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been losing to President Erdoğan in every election for many years, now appears to be closer to the presidential seat than ever before. Most polls in the country show that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is ahead of Erdoğan and has the support of most parties and leaders in the parliament. Even former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former Economy Minister Ali Babacan, who were once part of President Erdoğan’s inner circle, are among Kılıçdaroğlu’s allies. Meral Akşener, an important female figure in Turkish politics and the leader of the third largest party in parliament, is also Kılıçdaroğlu’s partner. At 77 years old, Kılıçdaroğlu is closer and stronger than ever before in his efforts to overthrow Erdoğan. He can be seen as an ideal presidential candidate for Israel’s interests because of his moderate nature and communication with several party leaders who are Knesset members, which enables him to maintain positive relations with Israel. Although Kılıçdaroğlu occasionally brings up the issue of Palestine, it is said that his rhetoric does not resonate much with his own voters.
“Muharrem İnce: A candidate who does not have a harsh rhetoric against Israel”
Formerly a rival of Erdoğan in previous elections as a candidate for presidency, Muharrem İnce seems to have lost his former popularity. His decision to run against the party he had long been a member of, and the perception that his candidacy would split the opposition vote in favor of Erdoğan, along with his aggressive and confrontational style of politics, have significantly diminished his support among the public. Despite İnce’s insistence on becoming president, the polls and the overall situation indicate that this will not be the case. With regard to Israel, as he does not have a particularly hard-line stance, İnce is not viewed as an unfriendly candidate in terms of Israeli interests. Additionally, his voter base is made up of individuals who do not place a significant emphasis on the Palestine issue.
“Sinan Oğan: A leader who would be very contrary to Israeli interests”
Sinan Oğan, whose political views are guided by Turkish nationalism, previously served as a member of parliament for the Nationalist Movement Party. He was expelled from the party due to his potential to rise as a leader and currently stands as the only independent candidate with academic achievements and hundreds of articles on international relations. Oğan receives support from parties advocating for the repatriation of Syrian and Afghan refugees. In the event of Oğan’s potential leadership, it is expected that Türkiye will increase its power in the Mediterranean, strengthen its relationships with Turkic states such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and pursue completely Turkic and national policies in areas where Israel is strong, such as defense industry and agriculture. These policies could potentially disturb countries such as Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Fortunately, Oğan’s chances of winning this election are low because, unlike the other candidates, he is an unfavorable candidate for Israeli interests.