Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan, Israel and Gaza

Turkey’s Erdogan is again playing the anti-Israel rhetorical card, but not free of the snoots of some who take him for a hypocrite, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid from Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

The moment it was announced that Israel would launch a “limited” invasion into Gaza, most of Turkish television stations changed their programming. Television screens switched to live coverage of the occupied territories and “the vicious war and the bombardment of civilian homes with their inhabitants inside.” As the war continued, the coverage increased in intensity with the inclusion of commentators and analysts who assessed the various aspects of the Israeli invasion and the systematic killing of innocent women, children and the elderly.

But when speaking of Turkish television, it is important to bear in mind that it is almost totally under the thumb of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and its ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is also useful to recall that during similar crises in recent years, which also stirred widespread outrage among the Turkish public, that media devoted nowhere near as much attention to events as it is as present. But then, Turkey is in the run up to presidential elections in August and Erdogan is busily electioneering. Taking advantage of his near monopoly on television coverage compared to other presidential candidates, he is campaigning to win the hearts of Anatolian conservatives by strumming the chord of the “Zionist invasion of Muslim Palestine”.

It was a noteworthy coincidence that leaders of Turkey’s minority Alevi community turned down Erdogan’s invitation to a Ramadan iftar on Monday. They said that the invitation to the meal with which Muslims break their fast during Ramadan had not been motivated by piety but by eagerness to win Alevi votes. Some quarters of the Turkish public appear to have the measure of the prime minister. But how general is that awareness? Will playing on public sympathies using the tragedies and injustices of Israeli collective punishment against the Palestinian people work to improve the prime minister’s prospects of moving into the presidential palace in Ankara’s upmarket district of Çankaya?

Erdogan has upped his anti-Israeli vituperation to full ferocity. He said: “The Israelis have designed T-shirts with a picture of a pregnant Palestinian woman on it and beneath is written ‘Shoot her to kill two birds with one stone.’ Those people are short on a sense of humanity. That baseness, that vileness... I hate them, I curse them.” Nor did he forget to condemn the West for remaining silent in the face of Israeli brutality, and to add that, “most of the Islamic nations are not only silent but support that heinous crime.”

Some commentators could not help but to pick up on some tragic ironies. The well-known columnist and television presenter Fatih Altayli could only express his surprise at that “playacting”. “Our government accuses the West of not imposing sanctions against Israel. But what sanctions has it imposed? None.” He explained that the balance of trade between Turkey and Israel has reached record levels during the era of JDP rule, but that rather than taking concrete measures in this domain, the government confines itself to proclaiming that “there can be no normalisation with Israel as long as the bombardment continues.” The government is being “just as hypocritical as the West,” he said.

Echoing Altayli, the Islamist Saadet Party also lashed out at the prime minister, accusing him of supporting the Zionists. Hassan Bitmez, vice-president of the party founded by late prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, said that Israel’s rapaciousness and brutality have increased during the 12 years in which the JDP has been in power.

He went on to list the ways the JDP government supported Israel and encouraged its behaviour: the US-operated Kürecik radar base in Malatya that is specifically designed to protect Israel, agreeing to Israeli participation in NATO activities in late December 2012, sales of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan transported to Israel via Turkish territory, and higher levels of bilateral military cooperation than under any previous Turkish government.

Erdogan’s hypocrisy also came under fire from religious quarters. The cleric and former mufti Ihsan Özkes observed that although the prime minister wept over the destruction of houses of worship during Ramadan, he had not uttered a word when US soldiers attacked a mosque in the southern town of Incirlik on New Year’s Eve 2013, broke its windows and tore up a copy of the Quran. The prime minister was equally insensitive when a Jaafari mosque in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district was set on fire and vandalised two weeks ago. Nor did he comment on the fact that during the US invasion of Iraq, US soldiers entered a mosque with their shoes on and turned it into a headquarters.

The Turkish cleric concluded his criticisms with the observation that the Israeli fighters that had bombed a mosque in Gaza were running on fuel received from Turkey, but that this did not stop Erdogan from duping his fellow citizens with his rhetorical condemnation of Israeli assaults against Palestinians in Gaza.

The question of the provenance of the oil that fuels Israeli war machines in Gaza was also raised by the political opposition. Ahmet Haluk Koç, vice-chairman and spokesman of the People’s Republican Party, called upon Erdogan to explain his silence with regard to reports on the sale of oil to Israel whose planes are bombarding Gaza. Addressing his remarks to Erdogan in a statement to Cumhuriyet newspaper, Koç said: “If you had courage, you would answer this question. Did you sell oil to Israel or not?” In spite of such allegations and charges of deception, neither Erdogan nor any other government official has answered the question.

As JDP masks fall, numerous Turkish cities have been the scenes of angry demonstrations that share none of the government’s duplicity and that sincerely express the people’s anger at the Israeli assault against Gaza. In Istanbul, Konya, Diyarbakir, Mersin, Bursa and other Anatolian cities, Israeli flags were set on fire while prayers were recited for the dead in Gaza.

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