Turkish PM Erdogan’s “Blessed Hanukkah” message

Turkish PM Erdogan’s warm Hanukkah message to the Jewish world has brought about the necessity to look at him in balance once again. In his Hanukkah message, PM Erdogan said, We, as members of a civilization which doesn’t perceive differences as a negative element, but on the contrary view them to be a richness, are attaching great importance to everybody in this country living – no matter what their religion, language, ethnic origin and faith is – their faith and traditions freely, without being exposed to any discrimination. I believe that Turkey, by taking pains to claim its rich cultural and historical heritage, will continue to be a country where differences live in peace.” He concluded by wishing peace, happiness and well-being to Jewish people not only in Turkey but around the world.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the Prime Minister of Turkey since 2003 and has been the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, a center-right conservative party. He came to power with a considerably high percentage of votes and has been subsequently re-elected in every election since. But what makes him so indispensable in the eyes of the Turkish people?

What has made him irreplaceable so far has to be perfectly studied and understood by the Israeli Government because those traits are the most essential features for a sustainable peace in Israel right now. First of all, despite his occasional harsh rhetoric, PM Erdogan is anything but an anti-Semite. He may be engaging in the classical right wing populist statements of the region in his public speeches; in practice he is compassionate and protective of Jewish people. And practice is what really counts. And I have to say I never supported the destructive language even if taking into consideration the classical right wing opposition to Israel in Arab lands.

If we take a look at his policy towards minorities in Turkey, he has been the most compassionate and uniting Prime Minister the Turkish people have ever had in the history of the Republic of Turkey. He restored many ancient churches and synagogues, which was never done before in Turkey, because first of all, Turkey is a strictly secular country and places of worship are usually restored or built by private initiatives and second, Turkey has a very low percentage of non-Muslim minorities which doesn’t require high numbers of places of worship. Nonetheless, he became engaged in restoring these places because it is a beautiful heritage of these lands. He allowed the installation of the missile shield in Kürecik, despite significant opposition, to protect Israel from a possible attack.  This constitutes a great sacrifice on Turkey’s part because stopping a possible missile strike against Israel inside Turkish territory means exposing Turkish lands to residual radiation in order to protect the Israeli people.

And when we look at how Erdogan has been treated by the media, it also hasn’t helped his image towards Jews. For example, when he congratulated his Jewish brothers and sisters on their holidays, this wasn’t mentioned in the international press yet his rhetoric against the Israeli government was amplified. In point of fact, he never canceled the long-standing military agreements between Turkey and Israel nor has he jeopardized the treaties of commerce with Israel and he has no intention of doing so. Please remember his speech after the April 12th 2010 fires in Israel: Turkey was one of the first to offer assistance in helping extinguish the forest fires, which occurred shortly after the flotilla incident. He said, “I have no problems with the Jewish public. Helping them is a humanitarian role of all of us. We may have differences with the government, but as Turkish people we are always protective of our Jewish brothers.” Israel has had no better and closer ally than Turkey in the region. None of the neighboring countries had treaties of commerce, treaties of tourism, military agreements and a long shared history of peace with Israel. Turkish lands have always been a safe haven for Jews whenever they were exiled from their former locations. And his recent warm Hanukkah message to all Jewish people once again proves he cares for and feels compassionate about Jewish people.

Israel has to engage in better relationships with Turkey and Prime Minister Erdogan for the well being of the Israeli public. With his Islamic education and fluent Arabic, Erdogan can reach Arab Leaders in a way Israel cannot. Turkey can broker a sustainable peace plan between the Arab world and be influential in Israel gaining more recognition in the hearts of all the Muslim world in a way Israel and America by themselves cannot. A new cooperation between Turkey and Israel will be the path to Israel’s peaceful existence in the region and help solve the conflicts. It is a well-known axiom that by working together, problems can be solved. This is now, and always has been, the case. Israel and Turkey are stronger when acting together than when they act separately, so let us unite our efforts and bring forward an era of stability, peace and prosperity for the entire Middle East.

About the Author
Ceylan Özbudak is a Turkish peace activist. She graduated from Istanbul University as a language major and is Executive Director and TV host on A9 TV, a satellite TV network based in Istanbul. Ceylan also hosts the Building Bridges Show, which has featured many prominent Middle East experts, authors, academicians, politicians and religious leaders.