The Turkish-Israeli Row: It's the Mentality, Stupid

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Since I am half-Turkish officially (in that I carry a Turkish passport ), and since I am half-Turkish genetically and mentally, it is easy for me to understand all the nuances of the joy enveloping Turkey these days in the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu's historic apology to Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the wretched episode of the Mavi Marmara. [Nine activists were killed in May 2010 after Israel Defense Forces soldiers boarded the ship, part of a flotilla that set out from Turkey seeking to break the Gaza blockade.]

At first glance, the way the Turkish prime minister pounced covetously on the apology to demand the largest possible monetary compensation from Israel looks like ugly extortion. But anyone born in Turkey understands that this is an official facade, intended to cast a manly exterior over a deeper and more authentic feeling of happiness at the renewal of the friendship between the two countries.

There is nothing more politically incorrect than to declare, "I understand your mentality" - which is precisely why I am now shouting out, maddeningly and vocally, "I understand the Turkish mentality!" And if more people in official Israel understood the Turkish mentality, our diplomatic situation could have been a lot better - in fact, the whole episode of the flotilla and all the diplomatic crises before it might have been averted.

The proof: Even now there are jokers among us - see under "Naftali Bennett," who decided to play the part of the mental clone of Avigdor Lieberman - who are ready to torpedo the reconciliation with Turkey, displaying the same unfortunate misunderstanding of the nuances of covert and overt behavior that are customary in the Levant.

In the simplest way, the apology over the flotilla incident reinstated Israel in the family of the Levant. For it is not the occupation that makes Israel an alien entity in the region; it is that politically incorrect thing called "mentality." And what is the higher school for learning about the regional mentality? It's Turkey. The state's founders - Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others - understood this intuitively, and chose to acquire their official schooling in Turkey, when it was still Ottoman. Netanyahu has turned out to be their successor. True, the education he has undergone - and it has not yet ended - beginning with his apology to Erdogan, is something like a course for an accelerated external equivalency degree. It seems to me, though, that he will soon be able to be considered a graduate of the Faculty of Ottoman Mentality Studies, which can't hurt anyone.

Same stance

That the Turkish delight over the reconciliation with Israel is genuine and sincere became clear to me in one of many opinion columns published in the Turkish newspaper Zaman. It called on Turkey to learn from Israel how to bend when necessary and say it is sorry; and that, outward appearances notwithstanding, an apology always places the apologizer in a superior - not an inferior - position. The author of the article claims that Israel has never hesitated to apologize for its actions and cites about a dozen previous instances in which it did so. He calls on Turkey to take a leaf from Israel's book, and adopt the same openhearted stance, and to open its book of open accounts, which is packed with the names of those who are expecting an apology.

For we are brothers all. But only those who understand the Turkish mentality know how similar it is to the Israeli mentality. And this also - indeed, mainly - applies to the persistent bewilderment over "whether we belong to the East or the West."

The answer, both for Israel and Turkey, is that sometimes it's one way and sometimes the other, and that, whichever way you look, things are always highly paradoxical. Israel is perceived by Turkey as a quasi-Western state, worth being a friend to if Turkey is oriented to the West. And Turkey is now apparently in a phase of making overtures to the West, after a period of making overtures to the East. In contrast, Turkey is perceived by Israel as a quasi-Eastern state, worth being a friend to if we are aiming for peace in the Middle East.

Of course, these are all superficial characterizations. In today's world, there are no saliently Eastern or saliently Western places. The White House suddenly turned out to be - thanks to Barack Obama - the place where the Eastern mentality is understood best, after years of disavowing it. As for Turkey, what is it, Eastern or Western? All the president of the United States had to do was puff, for quasi-Western Israel to turn eastward with an ear-to-ear smile.

That's what's so lovely about us Levantines. One puff and everything changes. The political commentators, the Middle East experts - who until a week ago persuaded their readers that the break with Turkey was irrevocable and abysmally deep because of Turkey's Islamization, etc., and the regional circumstances, etc. - are now working to persuade their readers that the future rapprochement between Turkey and Israel could have been felt long before, and that in actual fact..., etc.

Yallah, yallah, spare us the explanations. In a short time, until the next panic crisis, the flow of Israeli tourists to Antalya and Bodrum will begin again. They have completely forgotten that, just the day before yesterday, they looked at me stupidly when I related that I continue to visit Turkey as usual and don't feel that anything has fundamentally changed there in the past 60 years.

That's the way we are, we Levantines: it's not hard to entice us. Give us an easy chair and a grill, and we feel at home everywhere around the Mediterranean, our sea.

IllustrationCredit: Eran Wolkowski

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