October 3, 2011

Turkey, the crazy old man of Europe

Not so long ago, at Davos, seated beside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan picked a very personal and undiplomatic argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres before storming off the stage (The video is astounding). Shortly after that, he headlined a hate-filled anti-Israel rally back at home. He also appeared at a rally in Ankara where at some point a giant banner was unfurled depicting Peres bowing before Erdogan.

It didn't help matters that some senior Israeli diplomats who definitely knew better set up Turkey's ambassador for a calculated, unprofessional, televised hazing over some minor pretext for what was still a very valuable account.

In March 2010, Turkey's new Ambassador to the United States was temporarily recalled following a non-binding (but taboo) "Armenian Genocide" resolution that was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but never even made it to the full House of Representatives, let alone inform U.S. policy.

The May 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident is well known, if disputed. Despite a United Nations finding that Israel deserves only partial blame for the deaths of nine violent, mostly Turkish blockade runners, Erdogan continues to demand a formal and unambiguous apology from the Israeli government.

Curiously, Erdogan expelled Israel's ambassador only AFTER the UN inquiry issued its report. Now he demands Israel end its embargo of Gaza, even though the UN findings supported Israel's right to enforce the weapons blockade.

Just last week, at the UN General Assembly in New York, he tried to force his way from the fourth floor balcony with no physical way of reaching the delegates' level -- literally throwing the UN guards on the carpet, and leaving several with fractured ribs and blood stains. Mahmoud Abbas may have come in peace seeking recognition for a Palestinian state, but Erdogan's simultaneous background ruckus ironically bared a seething hostility, and from a nation once seen as a key to peace among warring Mideast states.

Not at liberty to ignore even malicious complaints of the member states, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rushed across First Avenue to the Turkish Mission with profuse apologies.

Erdogan may be smart enough to have realized he can do pretty much what he wants in the world, and with few consequences. Turkey is a venerable nation, and relatively moderate compared to the its turbulent surroundings -- the Levant, Middle East, and Caucasus. The world cannot afford to call Turkey's bluff. Israel, on the other hand, has no choice.

If the value of U.S.-Turkey relations is self-evident to the Pentagon and State Department, Erdogan has decided that Israel and Jewish connections are no longer necessary. For the American Jewish organizations, which compromised on the principles of genocide and human rights in order to shore up Israel's northern flank in a very dangerous neighborhood -- by lobbying in support of Turkey's agenda on Capitol Hill and before the leaders of a reluctant and clubby European Union -- there is no further need. This is especially so when Mr. Erdogan now routinely blasts Israel for committing "genocide" among his list of war crimes charges. Genocide? Really, Mr. Erdogan?? #goodluckwiththat

[Full disclosure: In my work for several of those Jewish organizations, I also advocated on Turkey's behalf, though I never had the opportunity to personally lobby against an "Armenian Genocide" resolution. In a small meeting once, I did take the opportunity to remind one of Erdogan's predecessors that a full accounting of the events of 1915 would do wonders for Turkey's interests in Washington, DC -- I would have felt silly otherwise.]

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