Analysis |

Why Do Netanyahu and Erdogan Clash When They Are So Similar?

The parallel between the Turkish president's enormous damage to Turkey society and what is being done in Israel by the Netanyahu regime is unavoidable

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu (left) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 19, 2017, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul, December 15, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu (left) at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 19, 2017, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul, December 15, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN OZAN KOSE/AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“Erdogan is not used to being answered back to. He should get used to it. Someone who occupies northern Cyprus, invades the Kurdish regions, and slaughters civilians in Afrin — should not preach to us about values and ethics.” That was the response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s verbal assault on him and on Israel after the killing of 15 Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds more in clashes in Gaza.

Netanyahu is right. Anyone should kill the citizens he wants to and nobody should interfere in what their neighbor is doing. This is not the first time, and certainly not the last, that Erdogan has called Netanyahu a terrorist. He is also not the first Turkish leader to do so.

The Turkish prime minister who preceded him, Binali Yildirim, called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a terrorist. But the parallel is interesting. After all, Erdogan and Netanyahu are imitating each other almost exactly. Both countries occupy territories, both kill civilians and both call their adversaries terrorists, even when they are innocent and are citizens of their country; both leaders ceaselessly persecute the media, although Erdogan could teach Netanyahu a thing or two about suppressing freedom of expression; both are steeped in corruption; and both know well how to connect religion and nationalism. Their head-butting is bitterly amusing.

Last week another interesting parallel emerged between Turkey and Israel. The commentator and former parliament member Nesrin Nas published a sharply worded article on the website Ahval, whose editor is the veteran journalist Yavuz Baydar, who fled Turkey shortly after the failed coup of 2016. The article’s title was “Keeping the Fear Alive” and it describes with razor-sharp precision the trap in which the citizens of Turkey find themselves, especially those who want to express an opinion that goes against the position of the government:

Syrian children carrying food walk in the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organised media tour into northern Syria. March 24, 2018Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

“Today, every step that is taken by government is presented as an historic step, which makes society confused, tired and quiet. No yesterday, no tomorrow. Just living in the moment, responding to immediate events. Today’s Turkey is a land without pluralism, a land where the law depends on the political power, a land that lacks transparency, a land that exaggerates security only to have that exaggerated security boomerang back as a security issue.

“A report published by Bertelsmann Foundation last week said the separation of powers had not been damaged anywhere as much as it had in Turkey and counted Turkey among 13 countries where the political situation had deteriorated the most. There is a constant crisis. Crises are being swept away without being resolved, or are overtaken by new crises. The government cannot rule the country without a crisis. Thus, a catatonic community is created and society is imploding.”

Nas is also critical of Turkey’s conduct toward refugees, saying Europe has remained silent in the face of the fatal blow to Turkish democracy to stop the flow of refugees to the European Union. “Instead of standing against the wars that unleashed the refugee wave and seeking ways for peaceful coexistence, we enabled the radical nationalists who promised to close our borders to those seeking refuge,” Nas wrote. ”The atmosphere of the othering and polarizing which we live in destroys all colors of society, creating a black and white world. Everyone defines himself by defining the opposite side; everyone hears and sees not the person at his side but the one on the opposite side. Some regimes collapse by destroying societies. They make society so barren that nothing new can flourish.”

A comparison of the huge damage Erdogan is doing to Turkey society with that being done in Israel by the Netanyahu regime is unavoidable. It touches not only on politics, it also spreads to the cultural sphere I both countries. For example, the well-known actress Fusun Demirel issued a desperate cry on Facebook begging to be allowed to return to work as an actress after she was ousted three years ago. “Is there no longer a courageous director or producer,” she wrote. “I can’t bear it any longer.”

Her crime was that in an interview to a pro-government television station in 2016, she dared say, “I would like to play the role of the female guerrilla fighters in the mountains, I could be the mother or grandmother of the fighters.” Demirel was no longer invited to act in the theater and she had to make a living for some time by selling second-hand items in the market. If until just a few years ago no one could have imagined similar conduct by theaters in Israel, today we can only be surprised that this hasn’t happened yet. After all, the conditions are identical, especially when culture is under the control of the Addams Family.

Not only do Turkish media, theater and cinema represent the collision course on which culture in Israel is headed, the academic world can’t be sure its position is safe. Last week the court sentenced two leading lecturers to 15 months’ imprisonment for “terror propaganda.” The two professors, Zübeyde Füsun Üstel of Galatasaray University and Associate Professor Veli Polat of Istanbul University, were among the signatories to a petition calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict with the Kurdish minority. One hundred and eighty other academics are waiting for their trial after they signed a petition, together with 1,000 other academics, protesting the brutal attack on the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in 2016.

We can already imagine the commissars in Israel’s Education Ministry nodding in agreement that perhaps there’s no other way to uproot the wild weeds at Israel’s universities, because like Turkey, who does Israel have to fear? Erdogan’s preaching? Perhaps Trump?

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