Netanyahu and Erdogan Are Distorting the Essence of Democracy

Both leaders are giving their countries a bad name. However, Erdogan is not deceiving anyone, while Netanyahu is confident that no one notices the fakery he ladles out.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit: Archive
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Turkey’s president has an expression that he uses to justify his abuse of the media, his pointed attacks on rival parties, as well as his “policy” towards women. The expression is “in Turkish style.”

“We’ll construct a presidential regime in Turkish style,” he says in explaining the essence of his desire to be an omnipotent ruler. Or “our constitution will be in Turkish style,” meaning that we’ll interpret the issue of women’s rights as we see fit, and, as he expounded in a speech this week in honor of International Women’s Day, “We’re not obliged to formulate, apply or defend women’s rights in the manner in which it’s done in the West.” In other words, the president of a country that ranks 130th out of 145 countries in terms of gaps between men and women, as defined by the Davos forum, aspires to “Turkish-style women’s rights.” At the same opportunity he urged Turkey’s parliamentarians to rescind the immunity of MPs from the pro-Kurdish party who, he alleges, support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization.

In short, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embraced the Israeli model of a Jewish and democratic state and wishes to turn Turkey into a Turkish and democratic country. First of all Turkish, then democratic. A country in which one can take over newspapers, jail journalists, impose curfews on Kurdish communities and threaten members of parliament who were democratically elected.

It’s very tempting to sketch the similarities between Erdogan’s conduct and that of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly with regard to the latter’s approach to Arab Knesset members and the Arab community in general. There are other similarities as well. Netanyahu’s monopolistic governing style is not that different than that of his twin Erdogan. Netanyahu’s control of the Communications Ministry, and through it his control of the life expectancy of multiple media outlets, closely follows the Turkish model, although Netanyahu can still learn a thing or two from his colleague, and it seems that he is set on doing just that.

A comparison between the two does Erdogan an injustice, since his administration is not pretending to be something it isn’t. The very use of the term “Turkish style” indicates that Turkey has no pretensions of being a Western state or a country that embraces a “Western” style. Erdogan has never used terms heard here such as “a villa in the jungle” to differentiate his country from its neighbors. He gritted his teeth as he saw how the Kurds were making significant gains in elections to Turkey’s parliament. but he never warned his citizens of an impending takeover of Turkey by the Kurds.

Turkey’s president built himself a sympathetic media network with the help of his tycoon cronies who became newspaper owners, and he’s taken off the gloves in fighting his critics in the media, but he’s never pretended to glorify freedom of expression in Turkey. He explicitly determines what is permissible and what is prohibited to write. Netanyahu, in contrast, hides behind the skirts of Miri Regev, the “Israeli-style” culture minister, who is busy composing lists of theater and film people to disqualify from receiving government funds.

Both Erdogan and Netanyahu are giving their countries a bad name, distorting the essence of democracy. However, Erdogan is not deceiving anyone, and takes upon himself responsibility for the violent onslaught he has launched on Turkey’s democracy. Netanyahu is confident that no one notices the fakery he ladles out. Relations with the United States? Wonderful. Israeli Arabs are his best friends — after all, wasn’t he one of the proponents of the plan to give them 15 billion shekels? Didn’t his government dismantle a few houses in West Bank settlements? Is there any country that’s safer for its citizens than Israel? And when you look around there is no country more democratic than Israel. Like our friend Erdogan might say — “it’s all in Israeli style.” Just like liver-flavored eggplant. Even in Turkey you don’t have that.

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