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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s dictatorial leader, has seized upon the unrest in Gaza to once again posture and lay claim to the leadership of the Islamic world. “History will not forgive you [U.S.], we will see this reality; history will never forgive Israel, we will see this too,” Erdogan said. He withdrew his ambassadors from Israel and the U.S. In a tweet titled “Reminder to Netanyahu,” Erdogan then denied Hamas was a terror group, and argued Hamas was a “resistance movement that defends the Palestinian homeland against an occupying power.” He then called Israel an Apartheid state and seemed to suggest not only the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank was illegitimate but, by questioning Israel’s existence in the period before the Six Day War, the entire Jewish state.
Erdogan’s polemics should not surprise. He has long had a problem not only with Israel but also more broadly with Jews. When Turkey’s economy sours or Erdogan wants to rally his base ahead of elections, he often turns toward provoking crises with the Jewish state.
Remember Erdogan’s temper-tantrum at Davos where he called Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres a murderer? That was less than two months before Turkey’s 2009 presidential elections. That episode was pre-planned: The day before Erdogan’s outburst, his advisers ordered Istanbul’s metro system to remain open through the night, a “coincidence” that allowed thousands to greet the then-prime minister upon his arrival at Istanbul’s airport.
Then, of course, there was the Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turks seeking to prevent the boarding and inspection of a ship trying to run what even the United Nations deemed a lawful blockade. That occurred in the run-up to the 2010 constitutional referendum and 2011 parliamentary elections. Erdogan’s political party sold the Mavi Marmara to an Al Qaeda-linked charity in order to conduct its operation to supply Hamas.
Turkey’s fingerprints are on the most current crisis. SADAT, Turkey’s equivalent of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have supplied Hamas with equipment and explosives. Erdogan presaged Hamas’ moves to violate Gaza’s border with Israel when he called for a Muslim army to march on Israel’s borders.
And while Erdogan may superficially embrace Palestinian nationalism, his focus is less that than solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdogan regularly makes end runs against the Palestinian Authority, the legitimate government of the Palestinians, and gives Hamas — which staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip — an uncritical reception. Nor does anyone in Turkey ask why Palestinians rush the border in Gaza, but no such bloodshed occurs between the West Bank and Israel.
Erdogan’s supporters may cheer his incitement and Israel bashing, but Turkish nationalists should be aware that his political theatrics will have a price. The deaths in Gaza may be tragic, but in terms of both numbers killed and living conditions, the Kurds in Turkey fare far worse.
In recent years, Erdogan has razed Sur, Sirnak, Cizre, Nusaybin, and many other Kurdish towns, slaughtering hundreds if not thousands. Turkish forces have killed exponentially more Kurds in Syria than Israel has killed Palestinians trying to invade Israel’s own territory. (And, while Israel can point to many terror attacks which Hamas planned from Gaza and subsequently claimed, Turkey has not been able to name a single terrorist plot hatched from Afrin, the civilian district it invaded and in which it engages in ethnic cleansing). Erdogan has systematically imprisoned democratically-elected Kurdish leaders like Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish Mandela.
Even if many Kurds once considered a bi-national future with Turkey, years of living under Erdogan and putting up with his antics have convinced most Kurds that they no longer want to live under Turkish dominance.
As for the loose rhetoric of Apartheid, its applicability to Israel is demonstrably false. In Turkey, that is increasingly up for question.
In short, every demand that Turkey makes against Israel and on behalf of the Palestinians could just as easily be reversed to support Kurdish independence, end Turkey’s occupation of a Kurdish homeland, and justify the provision of weaponry (including anti-tank weapons) to Kurdish militias. Erdogan bashes Israel because of ideology, anti-Semitism, and a perverse notion of Islamist unity. This is why he laments any Palestinian terrorists’ death but embraces men like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose genocide he denies. He seems blind, however, to the precedent he sets.
One day, when states like Turkey cease sponsoring terror groups, when Palestinians forswear terrorism, and when Palestinian leaders focus more on building their country than seeking to destroy Israel, Palestine will become independent. Not long after, however, Kurdish nationalists can use the precedent established by Erdogan to advocate for the partition of Turkey. Erdogan may see himself as a sultan, and the father of a new Ottoman alliance. In reality, he may be signing the death warrant for Turkey’s unity and cohesion and setting the stage for the Kurds to achieve their goal of a century: An independent Kurdistan with Diyarbakir as its capital.
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