Talking Turkey About Israel

The Israeli invasion of Gaza and the slaughter of civilians was such an egregious error in judgment that the usual suspects are working overtime to make it all look like a heroic defense of democratic values. The expected beneficiary of the "defensive action," the ruling Kadima Party, so miscalculated that it is now likely to lose today’s election, with the Israeli electorate convinced that an even more extreme right-wing government is the only solution to the moderate right-wing bungling.

Israel will likely choose hard-right nationalism by electing Bibi Netanyahu as the next prime minister. Netanyahu has never let any values, democratic or otherwise, stand in his way in his quest for a Greater (Arab-free) Israel encompassing all of the West Bank and running from the Litani River in Lebanon in the north to the Suez Canal in the south. He has already promised that if elected he will not turn any occupied land over to the Palestinians.

There have been numerous signs that the world is no longer buying into the Israeli creation myth, even in the United States, where the suffering of the Gazans, neatly concealed by most of the mainstream media, nevertheless produced an outpouring of sympathy. The beleaguered little state of Israel founded as a homeland and refuge for the victims of persecution in Europe has become a regional military superpower ruled by a corrupt political class, with a socialist economy kept afloat by the U.S. taxpayer. Israel continues and even expands its occupation of the lands of its neighbors and engages in the brutal suppression of those who resist. Far from seeking a political solution that would create two states side by side, it has deliberately aborted every genuine peace initiative and now seeks absolute regional hegemony, pressing forward with racist policies that marginalize its own citizens of Arab descent. Most of the world has finally realized that claiming perpetual victimhood as a shield against criticism does not work very well when you can muster Merkava tanks, helicopter gunships, and white phosphorus against a civilian population.

The sharp exchange between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Davos on Jan. 29 exemplifies Israel’s public relations problem and also casts light upon what steps the Israeli government and its friends in the United States are taking to counteract the negative press. Media reports suggest that Israel preceded its attack on Gaza by alerting a network of supporters to post comments on blogs, saturating the Web with the Israeli government’s justification for its action. This was evident on a number of blogs, including Huffington Post and the Washington Note. Many of the posters were Israelis, and it is believed that a number of them were active-duty military personnel selected for their fluency in English and other European languages as well as their familiarity with the Internet.

The coverage of the Erdogan-Peres exchange was carefully managed in the U.S. media, but less restrained in Europe and the Middle East. In a one-hour discussion of Gaza moderated by David Ignatius of the Washington Post, an odd choice for such an important discussion, Peres was allowed 25 minutes to speak in defense of the Israeli attack. Erdogan and two other critics on the panel were given 12 minutes each. The YouTube recording of the debate shows Peres pointed accusingly at Erdogan and raised his voice. When Erdogan sought time to respond, Ignatius granted him a minute and then cut him off claiming it was time to go to dinner. Erdogan complained about the treatment and left Davos, vowing never to return. Back in Turkey, he received a hero’s welcome.

Four days later the Washington Post featured an op-ed entitled "Turkey’s Turn From the West" by Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish-born, American-educated academic who is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). WINEP was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Cagaptay is also on the board of the American Turkish Friendship Council, one of several Turkish lobbying groups that are supportive of the Israel-Turkey relationship. A review of Cagaptay’s writings reveals that he is AIPAC’s go-to guy for any argument that Turkey is becoming more anti-Western and religious.

That Cagaptay is a genuine expert on the country of his birth is clear, but his view on developments there is very much shaped by who pays him. He finds anti-Semitism lurking everywhere in Turkey and being "spread by the political leadership." He is astonished by Erdogan’s assertion at Davos that Israel is "killing people." He finds inexplicable the prime minister’s belief that there was "Jewish culpability for the conflict in Gaza" and that the "Jewish-controlled media outlets were misrepresenting the facts." For good measure, Cagaptay believes it "doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of nuclear Iran," and he sees a regrettable Turkish "solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes."

AIPAC’s Turkey expert might be surprised to learn that most of the world, which saw the images of dying Palestinian children on nightly television, would probably agree with Erdogan. Israel planned its invasion of Gaza six months in advance, timed the assault for maximum political benefit for the ruling party and to engage the incoming U.S. president in its policies, committed war crimes against a largely defenseless civilian population, and then kept journalists out of the combat zone so it could lie about everything that it was doing. The U.S. media in particular chose to ignore the carnage and present the Israeli point of view. Though it would be unfair to claim that the media is controlled by any ethnic or religious group, it is certainly true that Jewish organizations mobilized to make sure that pro-Israel commentary far exceeded any reporting of Palestinian suffering.

Cagaptay likewise fails to see what the rest of the world sees regarding Iran. No one admires Iran’s government, but America’s European allies, not just Turkey, will not support yet another war in the Middle East, even if Tehran does move closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon. Turkey’s development of closer ties with the Islamic world, which Cagaptay tellingly insists on calling "Islamist," is also an understandable response to being repeatedly snubbed in its bids to join the European Union, something that even WINEP’s reliable scholarly claque surely knows to be true.

Efforts to control and spin the narrative, to turn black into white, have been unrelenting since the Israelis decided to attack Gaza. Cagaptay is only a part of that effort, but his smearing of Turkey and its elected leaders is unfortunate, particularly as his newspaper audience probably knows little about Turkey and will assume that the analysis is credible. Anyone who knows Turks well knows that they are an exceedingly stubborn and honorable people who will invariably say what they think to be true. Prime Minister Erdogan spoke the truth in Davos and has been speaking the truth about the invasion of Gaza. Attempts to label him anti-Semitic and to denigrate the Turks in general will certainly have some impact, most certainly on the U.S. Congress, which will rapidly fall into line and comply with AIPAC’s instructions on an appropriate punishment. But Israel’s attempt to portray itself as always the victim of a global anti-Semitic, anti-Western conspiracy just will not stand any more, no matter how many Soner Cagaptays are paid by AIPAC to write for the Washington Post.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.