As the wave of lawfare against Israel, post-Gaza war, intensifies, the Associated Press reported on Friday that “Turkish prosecutors said…they were investigating whether Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity over the military offensive in the Gaza Strip…. the probe was opened after Mazlum-Der, an Islamic-oriented human rights organization in Turkey, filed an official complaint against Israeli leaders.”
As Barry Rubin, Israeli Middle East scholar and editor of Turkish Studies, notes in an important statement, this is being done even though “Turkish officials…welcome top Sudanese officials who are engaged in mass murder in their own country.”
The AP report mentions, though, whom Mazlum-Der considers the real mass murderers: “The group alleges that genocide, torture and crimes against humanity were committed by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and [Israel’s] army and military intelligence chiefs.” Mazlum-Der “has also asked that the Israeli officials be detained if they enter Turkey….”
This is only the latest chapter in a severe upsurge of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic agitation in Turkey that began during the Gaza war. It was stoked particularly by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Islamist AK Party, who during the war charged Israel with “inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction” and said “Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents.” He added for good measure that “Media outlets supported by Jews are disseminating false reports….”
None of this is surprising considering that in 2005—two years after the AK was voted into office—Mein Kampf became a bestseller in Turkey, with a Jewish columnist saying “there has been a big increase in articles attacking us in the fundamentalist and nationalist press.” That was followed in 2006 by the huge popularity of the rabidly anti-American and anti-Semitic film Valley of the Wolves, which shows a Jewish-American army doctor harvesting organs from wounded Iraqi prisoners to sell to rich Americans, Britons, and Israelis.
Erdogan also attacked Israeli president Peres at the recent Davos conference and, as Rubin points out, he “used, in Turkish, a derogatory form of address toward Peres, and then referred to [their] one-sided confrontation as a new Gallipoli.”
Gallipoli having been “the World War One battle in which the Ottoman Empire defeated a British invasion attempt,” Rubin explains that “to equate this verbal exchange with a bloody battle in which Turks defended their country from invasion was about the most inflammatory patriotic language the prime minister could use to stir Turk passions.”
Meanwhile Turkish Jews, a community of 25,000 in a country of over 70 million, have been feeling the heat—intensely. During the war “as Turks protested en masse, many with Hamas headbands, placards showing mutilated Palestinian children or baby dolls covered in fake blood,” Reuters reported that “virulently anti-Jewish articles began to appear in some Turkish newspapers, and openly anti-Semitic graffiti became common.” An Israeli basketball team had to flee to the changing room as Turkish fans chanted “God is great” and “Killer Israel.”
Today, in the aftermath of the war, Rubin describes Turkish Jewry’s situation as “perilous” and cites a contact in Istanbul who mentions an anti-Semitic crowd outside a synagogue, abuse of Jewish children in schools, Jewish soldiers being sent home to protect them from harassment, and the like.
It all leaves the status of Turkish-Israeli relations—highly developed strategically, economically, and touristically—in question. But not only that; Rubin, asking in what direction the Turkish regime is heading, cites a pessimistic view in which it is moving closer to the Iranian-led axis and “making a sharp break with the past,” and a more optimistic view in which the problems are temporary and Turkish national interests—the need for U.S. support, hoped-for accession to the EU, strong relations with Israel—will prevail.
Stating that “at the moment the more pessimistic analysis seems the likelier outcome,” Rubin points to Turkey’s deepening ties with countries like Iran, Syria, and Sudan, “the AK’s introduction of more Islamic or Islamist norms, … the rising pressure in daily life for conformity with Islamist-dictated behavior, and so on.” The ultimate question: “…if Turkey cannot sustain itself as a tolerant, secular, moderate republic, what hope is there for any other Muslim-majority country to do so?”
Though more dramatically and probably more catastrophically, 30 years ago another Middle Eastern country considered relatively secular, pro-Western, and a U.S. geostrategic “pillar”—Iran—was taken over by virulently Islamist, anti-Western, anti-Semitic forces. Lebanon, once considered another Middle Eastern success story of relative freedom and pluralism, collapsed into a ferocious civil war and today is trying to fend off Shiite Islamization.
Optimism about the unknown future of Iraq should also be tempered by the precarious state of today’s Turkey—let alone the groupthink view of Palestinian statehood as a panacea and formula for peace.
Meanwhile on Tuesday peaceful, pluralist elections will be held amid rocket fire in the one Middle Eastern country whose democracy sails sturdily through all the storms.
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