In January, Turkey’s current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, created an international sensation at the World Economic Forum in Davos when he stormed out of the meeting after accusing Israeli soldiers of deliberately killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza, calling it “a crime against humanity.” When Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, the commander of those soldiers, heard that, he reportedly replied: “Erdogan should first look in the mirror.” General Mizrahi is right, and all Turks should take his advice, but not for the reason most Turks think.
Most Turks assumed General Mizrahi was referring to the increasingly loud international chorus insisting that Turks, too, are guilty of crimes against humanity because they committed genocide against innocent Armenians in World War I. They think he was saying, in effect, “We may be wanton killers, but you have no standing to criticize us, because you are too.” I don’t assume that’s what the general meant — because the truth, and the point, is the opposite. Persistent and hugely successful propaganda campaigns to the contrary notwithstanding, Jews are no more guilty of wanton murder today than Turks were of deliberate genocide in World War I (as I’ve argued here and here).
General Mizrahi’s legitimate point is that people who have felt the lash of unjust accusations by corrupt foreign leaders, and the dangerous mobs they incite, should refuse to join in when mobs unjustly target another state, demonizing it and whitewashing its enemies.
That’s doubly true when the targeted state is a loyal, longtime ally like Israel. And what is true for Israel is true as well for Turkey’s other small, beleaguered ally, Azerbaijan, a Turkic sister state that was finally freed from Russian occupation only to suffer again, now, under partial Armenian occupation. Practical benefits reinforce the moral claims that both these struggling democracies have on Turkey: e.g., access to Israel’s technological and defense wizardry, to Azerbaijani oil, and to the great promise of the Nabucco project to make the abundant oil and gas of the Caspian Sea region available to Turkey and the West in a way that will prevent Russia, Iran, or the Arabs from having a stranglehold on vital resources we all need. This latter project could make Azerbaijan a model for Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, two other newly freed Turkic states struggling for a viable way forward, a way to exploit their gas and oil resources without falling back under Russian domination. It would also give hope to the other newly freed and struggling Muslim “Stans” in the region, and to Georgia’s beleaguered Christians.
TURKEY IN THE TRANSNATIONAL MIRROR
Prime Minister Erdogan prioritizes none of that. His focus is on the global stage, where Israel is hated, Azerbaijan is ignored to the point of invisibility, and the “Stans” are not a big enough voting bloc to matter. There, abandoning old allies and embracing Palestinians and Armenians instead is a winning move. Let’s count the ways: It puts Turkey in sync with both the Islamists and the blindly self-righteous Socialists, the two big multinational blocs that dominate the U.N. It pleases European Union transnationals who appease both blocs and call it statesmanship. It gives the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) the Muslim unanimity against Israel that Turkey denied it in the past (along with Iran, before the Islamists seized power there in 1979). It wins Turkey special points with its new best friends: an increasingly expansionist Russia; a rapidly nuclearizing Iran, along with its satellite, Syria, and its terrorist surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas; and Sudan, a current practitioner of actual genocide against its own desperate and friendless people.
Last but not least in this media-driven world of ours, condemning Israel makes Erdogan an international celebrity, winning him flattering attention not just in the Turkish press — increasingly owned and dominated by his AKP (Justice and Development) party through relatives and friends — and in Arab-government-controlled outlets like Qatar’s ubiquitous al-Jazeera television network, but in the increasingly anti-Western Western media too. And it evokes cheers from mobs in streets, squares, and campuses from Cairo to London to Los Angeles. At Atatürk Airport, on his return from Davos, Erdogan was greeted by a cheering mob, shouting “Bravo Erdogan” and “Death to Israel.”
Prime Minister Erdogan is an ambitious man. At Davos, he didn’t just add Turkey’s voice to the growing multinational chorus demonizing Israel and taking a see-no-evil stance toward the Palestinians. He went beyond simple acquiescence, making a bid to put Turkey at the head of the latest wave of Israel-bashing by saying what all the other Jew-bashers were saying, but saying it louder and more dramatically, from an unexpected platform.