Great miscalculation by Israel

It is quiet misleading to claim that the cooling relations between Turkey and Israel are a product of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which came into power in 2002. The proposition, mainly voiced by conservatives in the Israeli media, ignores the fact that the opposition and the government are on the same page when it comes to dealing with Israeli policies regarding settlements, the dire situation in Gaza and provocations concerning the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Quite frankly, the argument centers on the false dichotomy that the government is somehow disassociated from the wider society and pursues its own agenda, which does not sit well with the Turkish public. In fact, the opposite has been true in Turkey for a long time, preceding the current government, and it is certainly set to be sustained by upcoming governments as well, be they on the right or the left.

Our Israeli friends should understand that they have a larger problem in their laps, which is the structural change in the attitude of the Turkish public, in line with most people in the world. Turks despise the Israeli actions in Gaza and condemn the continuing human rights violations there by the Israeli Defense Forces. The footage and images of human suffering in the occupied territories are so powerful that any public relations campaign launched by the Israeli government is set to be stillborn.

Hence the suggestion that the vocal Turkish opposition to Israeli policies in the region is somewhat a product of the current government and, drawing a lesson from the shaming of the Turkish ambassador this week, the fact that it is simply not possible for Israel to target the AK Party government without offending the Turkish public. In all likelihood, it will backfire and invite the wrath of the Turkish public.

First of all, the current government received 47 percent of the vote in the last national elections in 2007, proof that almost one in every two people voted for the AK Party to remain in power for a second term. According to polls, the party still enjoys the largest single voting block, albeit with a slight drop in approval ratings recently. Political analysts expect that the government will be elected for a third term unless something dramatic happens before the 2011 elections.

Secondly, no matter what type of government we had during the latest diplomatic flap with Israel, the response would have been the same. If the comments aired by the opposition are any indication, I would imagine an even harsher rebuke would have come under the opposition’s rule in the country. Thirdly, the fact that the ultimatum demanding an apology was voiced by Turkish President Abdullah Gül himself emphasizes that the policy on Israel is a bipartisan one in Turkey and the recent action triggered quite a backlash from all circles within the state and from the general public.

I think it is past time for the Israelis to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and drastically re-evaluate the policies that have increasingly been pushing the Jewish state into isolation, both regionally and globally. For starters, they could rejuvenate the peace process, take immediate steps to end the blockade of Gaza, stop the building of settlements and demolish the ones already built in violation of United Nations resolutions.

I, for one, am not optimistic about the prospects of this happening when I see Israeli politicians and Jewish lobbyists throughout the world shifting the blame onto others for the country’s isolation. They are on the losing end of the campaign for public support. For instance, it is almost cliché now to accuse Turkey of anti-Semitic remarks, and it is counterproductive. Many would concede that Turkey would be the last country in the history of the world to warrant such false accusations as it has always been a safe harbor for Jews fleeing persecution and killings in Europe.

Turkish leaders, including the outspoken Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have always been very careful to distinguish the Israeli government’s policies and actions from the Israeli public or state. If you strip down the rhetoric from Erdoğan’s remarks, there is basically no difference in the substance of the complaint between himself and the Turkish president, who is often portrayed as the moderate one. What is more, all leaders in Turkey have voiced equally harsh criticisms of the Hamas and Hezbollah rockets falling on Israeli cities and have unequivocally condemned these groups for any casualties suffered by Israeli civilians. In sum, Turkish foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel was formulated on principles and stands on a higher moral ground.

Arguments for increasing trade, high-tech military procurement and preventing the loss of revenue from falling numbers of Israeli visitors to Turkey unfortunately no longer hold any water with the Turkish public, which puts pressure on the government. Turkey is already on its way to boosting the volume of trade with other countries, including, but not limited to, Israel’s Arab neighbors. The record number of visitors from other countries has already offset the decline in Israeli tourists in the last year. Turkey has also diversified its sources of weaponry and has invested heavily in the domestic defense industry.

Crafters of Israeli foreign policy have shot themselves in the foot with every action they have taken to improve the country’s image recently. For example, the complaints lodged by Israeli officials against TV series running in Turkey have already made these shows even more popular. In the “Valley of the Wolves,” screenwriters had apparently picked on not only Israel, but also the US and even the Turkish state itself. It was not a wise move.

Israel should carefully analyze the changes happening within Turkish society and be very careful when orchestrating schemes that might offend Turks. We may have our own problems on the domestic front, stymied by a fractured political system and polarized parties, but we are an image-conscious society and speak with one voice when responding to disrespect shown to one of our own.

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