Turkey Run

How do you say “chutzpa” in Turkish?

The expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Turkey (he was in Israel on leave anyway) and the recall of Turkey’s ambassador to Israel followed the release of the UN report that – get this – upheld the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and therefore the propriety of the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish thugs were killed. PM Netanyahu has properly refused to apologize, wimpishly offered to pay compensation to the families of the “victims,” and otherwise has had to endure another public relations hit as Israeli-Turkish relations has foundered.

The contacts between Israel and Turkey have always involved a diplomatic tap dance, if not juggling while walking a tight rope. Turkey was once traditionally defined as a “secular Muslim, non-Arab state” and its thumbnail sketch was as “the only Muslim country with which Israel has diplomatic ties.” But neither has been true for years; this is not Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey anymore. Since the Islamic party won control of Turkey’s government, and its strongman Erdogan has ruled, Turkey has undergone a steady de-secularization campaign. Muslim garb, forbidden under Ataturk, is now commonly worn, and in many places expected. Turkey has warmed its relations with Iran and Syria and other enemies of Israel and America, and sought a seat at the table of radical Islam. This was all predicted years ago, and the only hindrances to a full cessation of relations with Israel have been the military – the dominant force in Turkey – and the extensive trade between the two countries that has benefited both.

Those who seek to re-start Israel-Turkey relations on the old premises are simply in denial about the change in circumstances. The old premises no longer pertain. This should have been crystal clear to anyone who observed the saber-rattling of Erdogan that led him to support the flotilla in the first place – an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, with which, after all, Israel is at war. It was just over two years ago when Erdogan got into a shouting match with Shimon Peres in Davos about Israeli “crimes,” leaving the peripatetic peacenik Peres to plead with Erdogan: “What would you do if rockets were falling on your civilians?” Erdogan just walked away. Recent events are just the natural consequence of a rupture that occurred years ago and is unavoidable given the ideological drift of the Turks.

It is important to iterate a classic distinction in statecraft that is often ignored. Turkey was an ally of Israel; i.e., they shared mutual interests. But Turkey and Israel were never friends – there has never been symmetry of views and values that make that association a natural one. Years ago, at a White House meeting I attended, President Bush made a similar point about Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, he said, are allies, not friends. Israel is a friend. It is a distinction, Bush said, that he never overlooks. Today, Turkey and Israel do not even share interests; hence the tension. It is sad, of course, inevitable, but not irreversible. Israelis, especially, have enjoyed vacationing on the Turkish
shore, and it is an interesting country to visit. (I spent almost a week there
a number of years ago.) Times change.

What galls, though, is the raw hypocrisy of the Turks who have never been a nation with clean hands. Imagine if Israel offered overt support to the Kurdish rebels who have been clamoring for independence from Turkey for decades, and been treated brutally by the Turks? The reaction would have been swift and unforgiving. The Turkish massacres of Greeks on Cyprus have also been played down. But nothing speaks more to the delicacy of the Turkish sensibilities and the need for an immoral silence to grease the wheels of this relationship than Israel’s long-time disregard of the Turkish massacre of more than 1,000,000 Armenians almost a century ago (1915). Israel is one of many countries – the US is another – that have avoided calling the Armenian genocide a “genocide,” and in many cases Turkey has broken off relations with countries that have acknowledged this tragic truth. In the last decade, Congressional resolutions have recognized the genocide but even the US government has not officially done so until today, for fear of impairing relations with the Turks. The Armenian genocide is the 20th century atrocity that dare not speak its name.

Israel has been even slower on the uptake, especially infuriating because of our understandable sensitivity regarding Holocaust denial. Rumor has it that even the Museum of Tolerance was pressured – by Israel – not to include the Armenian genocide in its displays because of the potential adverse Turkish reaction. (They eventually relented and the museum includes an account of the Armenian massacres, but the same squeamishness and dialogue recurred when DC’s Holocaust Museum opened.) But basic morality should dictate that genocide is acknowledged and the perpetrators – long lost to history – be condemned. It is the least we can do to honor the memory of the slain. While diplomatic contortions are inevitable, and not every truth can be pointed out on every occasion, perhaps now is an opportune time to right that historic wrong. Will it harm relations even more ? Probably in the short term. But it should be accompanied by a statement that “Israel values relations with Turkey, and appreciates the historic alliance between Turkey and Israel, but still mourns the genocide of Armenians a century ago that is no reflection on modern Turkey but is a historical injustice that demands acknowledgment,” or something of the sort.

The US should do the same. Otherwise, we find ourselves in the morally untenable position of kowtowing to Turks who massacred Armenians and demand that the whole world be accessories to their cover-up, and now support Arabs who have similar genocidal ambitions against Jews and Israel.

That will surely stick in their craw, and be a subtle reminder to Turkey that they are not dealing with Armenians, Kurds or Greeks whom they can malign, besmirch and attack with impunity, but with a proud Jewish nation of Israel that will defend its citizens, its honor, its rights and its freedoms. Israel should not again fall into the trap of having to apologize for its existence and having to
defend its right of self-defense.

7 responses to “Turkey Run

  1. There were two primary conclusions to the UN report: (1) Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal; and (2) Israel used excessive force against the flotilla. You discuss the first conclusion and ignore the second one. And before you label me an Israel basher, let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that the UN report is correct about the excessive force. I wasn’t on the flotilla, so I don’t know whether excessive force was used. I do know that the IDF is a moral army that tries its best to reduce casualties, I saw the videos of Israeli soldiers being beaten, and I know that the UN has a history of bias against Israel. All of those points suggest that the excessive force conclusion may be wrong or exaggerated. At the same time, at least insofar as the first conclusion of the report, in this instance at least the UN doesn’t seem to have automatically bent towards an entirely anti-Israel stance.

    All that being said, there were two primary conclusions to the report, yet your post ignores the second conclusion. Obviously it’s the excessive force issue and the fact that nine people on the flotilla were killed that has Turkey upset. I’m not suggesting that Turkey has the moral high ground here but what’s the point of writing a blog post, and labeling Turkey’s actions as chutzpah based on the fact that the report found the blockade to be legal, when you simply ignore the aspect of the report that’s the basis for Turkey’s actions? At least give your readers the full set of facts and then offer your analysis and opinion.

    • I omitted the “excessive force” conclusion for obvious reasons. Obviously, the UN could not issue any report that was completely favorable to Israel, so it chose the cliche of “excessive force.” As I have noted here several times, every victorious army uses excessive force in battle; that is usually why they win. For example, the US used “excessive force” in the Pacific, in Japan, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, etc. That is why they won. They did not use “excessive force” in Korea or Vietnam; that is why they stalemated and lost, respectively. Indeed, G-d used “excessive force” at the Red Sea. The accusation of “excessive force” is inherently preposterous, made more so by the fact that Israeli soldiers first boarded the ship with paint guns.

      Don’t give in to the leftist redefinition of war that only benefits the evil and constrains the good.

  2. I appreciate that you responded.

    So if I understand you correctly, your logic in the original post is as follows. There was a UN report with two conclusions: (1) Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal; and (2) Israel used excessive force against the flotilla. You like and agree with conclusion #1 so you discuss it in your post as a basis to label Turkey as having chutzpah to criticize Israel even after the UN concludes that the blockade of Gaza is legal. You don’t like or agree with conclusion #2 so you simply ignore it because obviously it stems from the UN’s knee-jerk anti-Israel bias so it’s not even worth a single mention. It’s an interesting method of argument. Certainly a convenient way to present an argument, albeit not the most intellectually honest approach.

    Your comment about “excessive force” suffers from two critical flaws.

    First, there are international rules of law that govern armed conflicts, including rules that address what’s unlawful excessive force by combatants. The Torah, in fact, is often cited as the original source for many of these rules. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 20:19-20. I’m not looking to debate here whether these rules are correct or whether countries do or should follow them. But to suggest, as you do here, that “excessive force” is a concept that has no place in battle, ignores the fact that there’s an entire body of international law dedicated to this very concept.

    Second, your logic is circular, because you start from the premise that the incident on the flotilla was a battle among combatants. If the flotilla incident was a full-blown battle among combatants — like the examples you cite of the US fighting Japan in WWII or the Vietnam War — then the fact that nine members of the flotilla were killed should raise no issue. But what raised the issue is whether in the first place the flotilla incident had to become a full-blown battle. I probably agree with what I assume to be your posistion on this issue. I saw the video, I know that many of the flotilla particpants were armed, so I see a strong argument that Israel had no choice but to respond with live fire turning it into a battle situation. But to simply dismiss the “excessive force” charge as misplaced because combatants always use excessive force in battle really doesn’t address the issue of whether or not this had to be handled as a battle in war.

  3. The Israeli soldiers were attacked in a lawful exercise of self-defense. Attempting to break a blockade is an act of war. There is no logical or moral reason to presume – in the real world, not the world of lawyers – that combatants must have equivalent weaponry at their disposal. That makes no sense, as I noted, nor does it ever occur in the real world. Note, for example, how Israel is untroubled by that charge, and considers the UN report a success. Don’t take it seriously. If the other guy brings a knife to a fight, you bring a gun. That is the morality of the Torah, as well as the Bronx.

  4. Rabbi, if I ever get to the point where I need a lawyer to defend me in a court of law I would want you to be on my side presenting my case. Your response to Steve Reiss was masterful. I would love to sit in your shul and listen to your sermons but regretfully I live too far away.

  5. While I appreciate that you took the time to respond, your responses appear to be completely off-topic from the point I was making. But I guess the readers of your blog can decide that for themselves.

    Not sure what you mean by your suggestion that lawyers don’t live in the real world but one thing I do know about most practicing attorneys is that they know how to make a cohesive argument and stay on point.

  6. C’mon Steve, the rabbi addressed your point. The UN report basically absolved Israel, but included the anodyne and legally meaningless statement about excessive force, in order to placate the anti-Israel UN members. The IDF didn’t really use excessive force. After boarding the ship with paintball guns, the soldiers were attacked by mobs wielding clubs, knives (and possibly pistols), and only then withdrew their side arms. Sure, the IDF could have done a better job at planning the interception. The real issue is that theTurkish government was and is seeking pretexts to break relations with Israel.