Jerusalem and Babylon / Making Use of Erdogan’s Paranoia

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The Talmud says a man can be recognized by his pocket, his cup and his anger, and since no one I know has seen Recep Tayyip Erdogan spending money and he claims to be a teetotaler, the key to his personality is the way he is when he's angry. Angry and frustrated he certainly was on Tuesday when he addressed his AK Party about his setback in Egypt, the country he believed would become a second Turkey, ruled autocratically by an elected Islamist party. It reverted to type as a military dictatorship.

Erdogan, who wants to see himself as a neo-Ottoman sultan dominating the region, has been forced to contemplate a rapidly changing landscape where he suddenly has no allies and is ostracized. This is happening not only in the Arab world but also in the West, which has denounced him for the heavy-handed way his police suppressed the recent demonstrations in Istanbul.

Like the bully he is, casting around for a scapegoat, he fell back on the classic conspiracy theory, blaming Israel for orchestrating the unrest in Egypt (to which many Israelis must have said under their breath, "if only we had that power"). If that wasn't bad enough, he immediately presented his proof - no, not a secret Zionist protocol, but the flamboyant French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who happens to be Jewish and two years ago uttered dire predictions of a Muslim Brotherhood rise to power.

Cue blanket indignation from Jerusalem, Cairo and Washington, and a general nodding of heads from the international commentariat. How could he? How could a leader of a major country say something no one in polite company is allowed to say? "I'm beginning to think Erdogan may actually be quite stupid," tweeted Gideon Rachman, The Financial Times' foreign affairs commentator.

But no, Erdogan is certainly not stupid. A stupid man doesn't win three consecutive elections, lead his country through a decade of prosperity and become the first civilian politician to checkmate the generals that were the country’s de facto rulers for nearly a century. As much as we hate to use this overused label, Erdogan, a highly intelligent man, is an anti-Semite forced out by his anger into the open where we can recognize him for what he is.

In this enlightened day and age, we may want to believe that only uneducated and uncouth ignoramuses can be tainted by Jew-hatred, but intelligence and sophistication is simply a modern cover for ancient hatred. He's not a genocidal anti-Semite (he hasn't persecuted the local Jewish community in any way), he’s just of the variety that hates the idea of those Jews running the world.

A poor choice in Egypt

But it’s not irrational hatred, at least from Erdogan's perspective. After all, the  serious newspapers have been full of reports in recent weeks of Israeli diplomats working behind the scenes in Washington to convince the Obama administration and Congress not to cut off aid to Egypt because the generals, so the Israeli argument goes, are the only ones who can prevent the region from descending into worse chaos. And it's not only Israel's official representatives but also Jewish lobbyists, AIPAC and other unofficial agents of influence who are pressing this message.

Of course, some readers may say that these reports are anti-Semitic hallucinations, but they happen to be true. And why shouldn’t they be? The generals who have been murderously cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, killing hundreds of demonstrators and arresting politicians and journalists, are no one's dream leaders, but the Israeli policy of supporting them (and the similar American policy), while controversial, is a legitimate one. After all, the alternatives for now are a fragmented dysfunctional "civil" sector that is mainly supporting the generals, and the Brotherhood, which used its electoral victories to try to install its own autocratic rule (also in alliance with the military).

Israel shouldn’t have to apologize for the fact that with other countries in the region it’s lobbying the administration to stay the course. Naturally, this is galling to Erdogan, who pinned his hopes for regional domination on the Brotherhood, but there’s an inherent irony, if not hypocrisy, in his resentment of the exercise of Israeli and Jewish influence in Washington.

For decades, well into Erdogan's time in office, this influence was wielded on behalf of Israel's strategic ally, Turkey. If anything, that influence was used for a more shameful purpose: supporting Turkey’s efforts to thwart Armenian Americans' quest to have the murder of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish army in World War I recognized by the United States as genocide.

Erdogan didn't have any problem with using the Israel lobby for that purpose, and it hardly came as a surprise when following the deterioration in relations under Erdogan, Congress finally passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. I doubt many Jewish diplomats or lobbyists particularly relished genocide-denying, but that’s just one price to pay for living and prospering in this neighborhood.

Strategic interests now mandate backing the unsavory Egyptian generals, but the regional alignments could change again very soon and we’ll be back in the same boat with Erdogan. Yes, he believes that Jews (or as he calls us when he isn't losing it, "the interest rate lobby") control Washington and the global economy, but if that's what he thinks, we may as well take advantage of it; that's the essence of soft power after all. These are the people we have to deal with, and the best we can hope for is that they learn to control their anger.

Follow me on twitter @AnshelPfeffer

Erdogan speaks during the opening session of the Ministry For European Union Affairs Conference. Istanbul, June 7, 2013.Credit: AFP

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