Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Turkey: The Ball is in Your Court

Turkey: the Ball is in Your Court

As an Israeli living in Turkey off-and-on for a decade, I have seen relations between the two countries quickly deteriorate during the last year. Groups hostile to Israel have always existed and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories during the last few years have become somewhat of a norm. However, following last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, the two countries relations have deteriorated at such a speed that one wonders if the current debacle is part of a long term shift in Turkish foreign policy.

A little over a week ago, Prime Minister Erdogan announced the Israel was banned from taking part in a NATO military maneuver due to the Israeli’s action in Gaza. With a lot on Erdogan’s plate, such as the forging of new ties with Armenia, and the opening up of a public discussion about the Kurdish issue, it seemed like the perfect time for one of his seasonal public shaming of Israel, which happens time-to-time to distract the Turkish public from more pressing internal questions.

It should be noted that I protested Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza, and the great death and destruction it caused. Furthermore, I believe Turkey has every right to criticize Israel; even in light of its own past. However, after viewing the television program Ayrilik, where Israeli soldiers are shown shooting Palestinian children point blank with no remorse, spitting on corpses, and setting up firing squads, I can no longer remain silent. This program dehumanizes every Israeli and is incitement at the highest level. It is a disgrace to Turkey and how its national television (TRT) agreed to air such a show is even more abhorrent.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is tragic enough and sadly has been held hostage by the pursuit of ratings. Israel bashing in Turkey is no more than a cheap shot that unites large parts of the political sphere from Islamist to leftist. The level of violence depicted in the program competes with the Turkish show Kurtlar Vadisi (The Valley of the Wolves), which was reprimanded as a result of its displays of bloodshed. Ayrilik, was aired at eight in the evening, and was rated for the general public, meaning the show was considered suitable for children to watch. These are the same children that were forced to stand for a minute of silence for the Palestinians during the Gaza campaign, which is not even done for Turkish soldiers or civilians killed in battle or terrorist acts. Placing hate in the minds of children, and older views alike, can only hinder efforts to reach regional peace, and I cannot fathom anything positive coming out of it.

Simply put, the repercussions of such a show can be tragic. Regardless, if the television producer can distinguish between an Israeli and a Jew, for many viewers, this is just confirmation of Jews massacring Muslims. During the Gaza Campaign, the Turkish Jewish community was subjected to pressures they had yet encountered, with protestors freely exchanging anti-Semitic gestures (not to mention the media). Numerous times during my last visit, I heard cases of Jews saying their time has come to leave Turkey. Ironically, many of them feel they will have a safer future in Israel. Who can promise the safety of a community in light of such blatant incitement?

Lastly, the other victim in this brouhaha is the peace itself. Turkey, as an ally of both the Jewish state and of Arab states, is one of the few countries who was capable of brokering a deal between Israel and Syria, and in my opinion, was well-suited to become a main broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Prime Minster Erdogan has proven his ability to take courageous steps on many fronts, most recently at reconciling his country’s differences with Armenia. However, the ball is in Turkey’s court and Erdogan’s recent actions towards Israel, and the Turkish television program, has only painted Turkish politics as petty, and has shown that he perhaps is not the bold politician he thinks he is.

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