Τρίτη, 2 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

The new PM in Ankara: The man who poisoned Israel-Turkey relations


I met Ahmet Davutoğlu exactly ten years ago. I was invited to participate in a panel which presided at a meeting of the European Parliament in Istanbul. Davutoğlu was nice, kind and even fair as the chairman between me and the Palestinian representative who came from Gaza. Following a discussion we shook hands, he handed me a business card and we agreed to keep in touch.
A few days later I realized that we will probably not become friends. I heard from Turkish friends that Davutoğlu visited Jerusalem. I had no right to be angry that my new friend did not see fit to tell me, but I was interested in the circumstances of the visit anyway. I called our foreign office to check and it turned out that they had not heard of the visit. Even the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv did not know that the senior political adviser to their prime minister visited Jerusalem. Only after I pestered my Turkish friends did they tell me that Davutoğlu came to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque as part of his traditional pilgrimage to Mecca.
You have to remember that in those days relations between the countries were still very good and the passage of a senior Turkish official without meeting an equivalent Israeli figure in Jerusalem was really out of the ordinary.
After the horrors and tribulations that Israel-Turkey relations underwent in the past ten years, this story is completely marginal, but at the time it served as an alarming warning.
Indeed, the worst happened afterward. Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated to such severe and hostile levels that there remains no trace of the alliance of the 1990s. Over the last decade I have lived with the feeling that it was Davutoğlu and not Erdoğan who poured poison and venom into the cozy dish of Turkish-Israeli relations. I felt that this was a poison made ​​in Konya (Davutoğlu's home and the religious capital of Turkey). A poison the likes of which we had not previously encountered in Ankara's or Istanbul's political leadership.
The only one who disseminated Konya's poison before was Necmettin Erbakan, who in the 1970s was the head of the small Islamic party and representative of the city of Konya in the Turkish parliament. Erbakan was the only Turkish politician who blatantly preached anti-Semitism, as he did at the time in his minuscule and irrelevant paper, the "Milli Gazete." Erbakan was temporarily removed from Turkish politics in the 1980 Turkish coup d'état and his virulent teachings were heard far less in the following two decades. Ahmet Davutoğlu brought this poison back to the center of the political stage in Turkey. It's true that until Davutoğlu's appearance in 2003 pro-Palestinian rhetoric could be heard from time to time in the speeches of the new Prime Minister Erdoğan, but it was not a blatant loathing of Israel, and things were not said in an anti-Semitic tone and as a new political strategy.
Before his leap to national politics, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the mayor of Istanbul and had a constant and positive connection to the Jewish community. There was never a hostile approach to the community, on the contrary Jewish community leaders liked him so much that once I heard them say: "If Erdogan comes to power we are set." In Konya however, there was never an influential Jewish community. We always knew that Konya was a center of radical Islam awash with hatred against Israel and Judaism. And indeed, upon his entrance to the national scene, Davutoğlu served not only as the mouthpiece of his hometown, but he was also the one who designed and marketed the thesis that the connection with Israel is the source of Turkey's troubles in the Middle East. This theory (incidentally completely unfounded) was eventually enthusiastically adopted by Prime Minister Erdoğan, who nowadays identifies even more so with it than Davutoğlu.
The current appointment of Davutoğlu as chairman of the "Justice and Development Party" and hence the next prime minister, is a serious blow to what was left of Israel-Turkey relations. He was appointed despite the fact that his thesis -- according to which Israel is the source of all troubles -- crashed in Turkey's face and even severely damaged its status in the Middle East. Davutoğlu was not chosen because of his successes, of which he hardly has any, but because of his absolute loyalty to Erdoğan.
We can only hope that Davutoğlu's lack of vitality and charisma will lead to him being replaced before the Turkish general elections in less than ten months (June 7, 2015), or, alternatively, that Davutoğlu will lead to the first defeat of the "Justice and Development Party" if he is still at its head at the time of the coming elections.
Alon Liel served as a Chargé d'affaires of Israel in Turkey in the eighties and is the author of "Demo Islam - Islamic democracy in Turkey" (2008).

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