The Party's Over

At the tail end of the dubious list of those that benefited from the oppressive regime that ruled in Turkey was, as mentioned, the State of Israel.

On the back seat of the groaning bus making its way on Monday from Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv, along the long and ugly Jabotinsky Road - which could just as easily be called, say, Ataturk Avenue, if it were Ankara or Istanbul - the overweight body of a poor wretch who had fallen into a deep sleep was being tossed about. He, for that matter, could also have been an ordinary Turkish wretch.

Plane illustration
Eran Wolkowski

In the space between his belly and thighs rested a copy of the free Israel Hayom newspaper he was probably reading before falling asleep, which with its loud and colorful design could have been a Turkish paper. The huge headline, in red, that spread over the first page was "Turkey has chosen: Islamists." The word "Islamists" took up an entire line by itself.

The term "Islamists" was clearly meant to frighten the reader (although it didn't succeed in this case since this one was actually sleeping soundly ). It is a word that is sufficiently long and vague that one can cram all the fears in the world into it, just as questionable ingredients are stuffed into a salami. For example, the Iranian nuclear bomb, Al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah. Then all that's left is to hang this salami at the entrance to Turkey as a warning signal - and we can all sleep in peace. We've done our part.

The connection between Islamism and the results of the referendum that took place in Turkey is very weak, but that doesn't interest that sleepy reader in the back of the Israeli bus. What interests ordinary Israelis in connection with Turkey is: A. the future of cheap vacations there; and, B. erasing Israel's image as an aggressive country after that flotilla debacle in May.

The Israeli government has always regarded Turkey through the practical prism of military cooperation. Therefore, the results of the country's referendum on Sunday, which removes the army's stranglehold on the country, which it imposed by force in its 1980 coup d'etat, really do not accord with the Israeli interest.

Therefore there was no small amount of rudeness in the sour reaction with which the Israeli media greeted the release of the Turkish people from the yoke of the military regime that has trampled it during the past 30 years. And, wonder of wonders: This release was accomplished in a nonviolent and even somewhat democratic way, via a referendum. It's true that a referendum is often a tool of authoritarian regimes for achieving broad legitimacy for steps that were planned in advance, but there is no question that it's better than totally preventing people from participating in decision-making, as the Turkish military regime was accustomed to doing.

The harsh Israeli reaction reflected in the media reports about the referendum is frightening also in its selfishness and inhumanity. Because during all those presumably good years, when Turkey smiled on Israel and Israel smiled back, human rights were disgracefully trampled upon in Turkey, journalists were killed and nobody bothered to seriously investigate who was behind those incidents. Political activists disappeared into the bowels of prisons, and all presumably in the name of preserving the values of the Turkish secular republic and the unity of the nation.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan may not be a saint. However, when his people were given an opportunity to choose between an evil and a lesser evil, they cannot be blamed for voting in favor of the constitutional reforms that he proposed. Erdogan's Turkey is a country with a flourishing economy. Furthermore, anyone who goes there and looks around with open eyes - without being instinctively alarmed by the scarves on women's heads, which are ostensibly a sign of Islamism - sees the degree to which abandoning the aggressive secular path has led to greater tolerance. Such tolerance is evident, for example, vis-a-vis the Kurds (under military rule, it was forbidden even to say "Kurd" ) and even, heaven help us, gay rights.

Anyone who reads Turkish newspapers these days cannot help but be impressed by the spirit of optimism that is hovering there, albeit cautious optimism, but also clear confidence about the future.

The country's disgruntled - and there are many - are typically those who enjoyed the privileges of the authoritarian military regime: senior officers, wealthy businessmen who relied on the army to repress any move by employees seeking higher wages, and the haute bourgeoisie sequestered in luxurious homes on the banks of the Bosphorus, with staffs of servants, drivers and gardeners. The latter's secular masters have lorded it over them, mainly because they are seen as "religious primitives," and for that sin they sometimes received even worse treatment than their masters' dogs.

The only such people saved from the dog's life were the lucky ones who in their day received a work permit for Germany or the West, and are now being treated like dogs by the Europeans who first welcomed them with open arms - and then panicked.

And at the tail end of the dubious list of those that benefited from the oppressive regime that ruled in Turkey was, as mentioned, the State of Israel. Representatives of its defense industry were invited to the homes of those self-satisfied wealthy businessmen on the banks of the Bosphorus, and returned full of admiration for the pampered lives of their Turkish counterparts, their "high" European culture and their "secularism." Just in order to erase the smug smiles from the faces of these Israeli visitors it was worthwhile to conduct that referendum, whose results say, among other things, that that party's over.