“This isn’t the first time that we’re dealing with a situation like this. Since 1948, every day, every month, and particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, we are witness to a systematic attempt by Israel to commit genocide.” What’s this – more words of incitement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? Perhaps a venomous declaration by Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal? No. These words were uttered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2014, during a meeting with representatives and clerics from Islamic countries. That same Erdogan also said that Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has “the mentality of Hitler,” and described Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a terrorist.
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Last March the Turkish network TRT Haber, which supports Erdogan, broadcast a documentary film called "Mastermind" that depicts the 3,500-year-old aspiration of the Jews to dominate the world. The film is based on a speech by the president, in which he implied that Jews are behind the plot to harm Turkey, its economy and its security. In the wake of his anti-Semitic comments the American Jewish Congress demanded that Erdogan return the “Profile of Courage” award he received from the organization in 2004, for his activity to promote peace in the Middle East. The Turkish ambassador to the United States said at the time that “Erdogan will be happy to return the medal.”
But the leader in Ankara who stopped being Israel’s partner since the affair involving the Mavi Marmara flotilla, protesting the Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip in 2010, and who allowed Hamas activists to operate from Turkey and who has encouraged incitement against Israel – he is now turning out to be a worthy partner, and will soon be the new ally of the country “that engages in genocide.”
This week one of Erdogan's senior aides, Omer Celik, a spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, declared that “friendly relations between the State of Israel and the Jewish people were never in dispute.” The problem, he explained, is “only” with the policy of the Israeli government. Now, after Israel has agreed to raise the amount of compensation granted to the victims of the flotilla, and to let up somewhat on the blockade of Gaza – it seems that Israeli policy will not be an obstacle either.
It seems that Erdogan is a pragmatic leader. When Russia is threatening to cut off the supply of gas to Turkey, alternatives must be found, and Israel is one of them. The closure policy in Gaza apparently can also be forgiven to some extent. After all, Turkey itself initiates closures and curfews in Kurdish cities within its territory, bombs Kurdish concentrations in Iraq, is building a fence on its southern border, and considers the Kurdish minority to be an even more dangerous enemy than Israeli Arabs are in Netanyahu's view.
Erdogan has seemingly realized that all in all, Turkey is not very different from Israel. Principles and ideology are not sacred, it turns out. Here exactly lies the profound difference between Erdogan and Netanyahu, who has yet to internalize what the Turkish president has already understood: Declarations and condemnations are not a substitute for policy.
Now Netanyahu is being given a second chance. For example, he can decide that if a Turkish leader whose statements border on anti-Semitism, and who has slandered Israel around the world slightly more than has the Israeli NPO Breaking the Silence, is worthy of being a partner – how much more so a Palestinian leader whose people are under direction occupation.
If Erdogan dared three years ago to embark on a process of national reconciliation with the Kurds, after over three decades of war in which over 40,000 people were killed, Netanyahu can also learn a lesson or two from him on the subject of reconciliation.
Only one more Turkish condition remains: Completing reconciliation with Israel now depends on its government’s generosity toward 1,800,000 Palestinians who are suffocating in the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of whose homes have yet to be rebuilt, whose ability to receive medical care is limited, and who suffer from over 50-percent unemployment.
Removing the blockade is not a concession to Erdogan, but a necessity that will serve Israel’s security, not to mention Israel’s moral and humanitarian obligation. And, primarily, it will give us a new friend in the neighborhood. It’s worth it.