Erdogan's Poisonous Rejection of Israel

Turkish prime minister's unbalanced hostility toward Israel damages both countries' strategic and political interests and is also a violent revocation of a proud, shared history between Muslims and Jews.

David Landau
David Landau
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David Landau
David Landau

One of Golda Meir's best-known adages, addressed ad nauseam to the Arab world, was: "We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."

It was treated in Israel, deservedly, with cynicism during her lifetime. No-one believed she was being sincere but rather just mouthing embarrassingly triumphalist copy-writing.

Nevertheless (!), I would like briefly to borrow Golda's logic for the purpose of this article. It would be addressed to the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It would say something like this: We can forgive you for insulting our president and prime minister. But we can't forgive you for effectively revoking the longstanding, undeclared alliance between our two countries – not only because of the strategic damage to both of our countries but also because of the profound denial that your policy implies of our shared, proud history.

No-one argues that a country's current policy can or should be mainly made on the basis of its history. (That, by the way, goes for Israel and the Holocaust, even by the light of Israelis proud of the IAF's symbolic flight over Auschwitz.) But certainly Israel, as the apotheosis of two millennia of Jewish history, should take that history into account – when doing so accords with its strategic interests.
In the case of Turkey, history and policy have happily accorded for decades, till Erdogan blasted them apart.

Surveying our history, it is difficult to see how Judaism, and indeed Jewry itself, could have survived into modern times without the tolerance and hospitality demonstrated by the Turkish empire after the Jewish crisis of peremptory extirpation from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century.

Two books have recently come out in Hebrew on a Jewish heroine of that period, Donna Gracia Nasi, a wealthy woman who fled the Inquisition in her native Portugal and was able, from her new home in Constantinople, to help save the lives and fortunes of many other 'conversos' and refugees from Portugal and Spain. The underlying theme that runs through her remarkable story is that her successes, in her rescue efforts as in her far-flung business ventures, was due above all to her and her family's close and comfortable contacts with the Sublime Porte.

The Sultan's government, of course, was fostering its own strategic and commercial interests when it welcomed Jews to settle in key trading cities in the empire. A finger in the eye of supercilious popes and strutting "Holy Roman Emperors" underlined the growing strength and self-confidence of the Porte.

But the bottom line as far as the Jews were concerned was that the Turkish empire offered them and their religion a civilized refuge from the vicious, sadistic Inquisition of the Catholic Church.

That remains the lesson of what may be seen as a high point in the annals of Jewish-Gentile relations. In our own day, the longlasting, undeclared Israel-Turkish alliance heart-warmed historically conscious Jews because it enabled the Jewish state to express gratitude. Erdogan's strange high-handedness has erased that.

The truth is, on a historical level but also a current, strategic plane, that the break with Turkey should arouse real worry in Jerusalem. Recent regional and international developments, coupled with Israeli and world Jewish superficiality, have led to the situation in which the Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, surrounded by Muslim states, has wrong-headedly maneuvered itself into lining up with Christianity in the clash of civilizations.

Does Jewish blood have no weight in the reckoning? Centuries of it, poured out by Christian Europe?

Ignorant Israelis and Jews speak of the need to avoid turning the Israeli-Arab conflict into "a religious conflict". But there is no religious conflict there – unless one accepts the terroristic dogmas of Al-Qaeda and its allies and their perversion of Islam (or the blather of our own Jewish ignoramuses). A religious Jew, of whatever stripe, who enters a mosque immediately feels comfortable and familiar – because of the strict absence of any representation, two-or three-dimensional, of an ostensible mediator between the worshipper and his God.

The inherent conflict between faiths is, and has inexorably always been, between Judaism and Christianity, which essentially defined itself from its outset by its rejection of rabbinic Judaism. The significant steps towards theological reconciliation taken by the various popes since the 1960s serve to prove the inherency of this conflict – even or perhaps especially in the post-Holocaust age, given the Catholic Church's ambivalent record regarding Hitler's Jewish victims.

One hopes that Erdogan, the previously impressive leader of an Islamist but pragmatic party in the most modern, powerful and fascinating Muslim country, but who has recently shown signs of unstatesmanlike, indeed unbalanced eccentricity, is not now giving the lie to his country's outstanding historical record and injecting the poison of theological discord into Turkey's dialogue with the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

File photo showing Turkish PM Erdogan with army officials in eastern Turkey.Credit: Reuters

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