Israel and Turkey: It's Complicated
The flotilla foul-up pits former friends against each other.
I hope that by now the state of Israel regrets its past collaboration with some of the worst elements in modern Turkey. It's not so long since American Jewish lobby groups, and reportedly even the Israeli ambassador in Washington, were successfully lobbying Congress to vote down the resolution condemning the genocide of the Armenians. (The narrow passage of the resolution this year seems to have contributed to the increasingly evident paranoia and megalomania of Turkey's thuggish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.) And, even as Turkish troops occupied one-third of Cyprus and expelled one-third of its Greek population, as well as mounted illegal incursions into Iraq in pursuit of rebel Kurds, the Israeli armed forces happily embarked on joint exercises with them. If this era of unseemly collaboration is over, then so much the better. Even so, there's something slightly hypocritical about the way in which Israeli crowds have suddenly discovered the human rights record and the regional imperial ambitions of their former ally.
Talking of hypocrisy, though, how do you like the way that the words activist and humanitarian have suddenly made their appearance in our media? Activist is employed to describe a core group of Turks and Arabs, very many of them identifiable by name as affiliates or members or emulators of the Muslim Brotherhood. (I suppose in fairness it also covers such figures as the credulous Irishman Denis Halliday, who used to campaign so loudly for the lifting of sanctions on Saddam Hussein.) And humanitarian is used to describe the materials that these worthies are seeking to donate to Hamas. But is it really humanitarian to make contributions to a ruling party that has a totalitarian and racist ideology and is in regular receipt of nonhumanitarian aid from Syria and Iran, two of the most retrograde and aggressive dictatorships in the world?
Those who care about justice and self-government for the Palestinians might want to be helping Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as they build up the institutions of an embryo state on the West Bank. And those who worry about the conditions of the Gazans might want to send convoys of aid to the many United Nations and NGO operations in the Strip that have a proven record of transparency and efficiency. But, from a Muslim Brotherhood or activist perspective, where would the fun be in that? It is only Hamas, with its thrilling violence and hysterical rhetoric, that is truly "authentic." Incidentally, in a little-noticed statement last week, U.N. special regional coordinator Robert Serry denounced a series of raids and lootings mounted by Hamas supporters on the offices of genuinely humanitarian operations in Gaza City and Rafah.
The near-incredible stupidity of the Israeli airborne descent on the good ship Mavi Marmara, by troops well-enough equipped to shoot when panicked but not well-enough prepared to contain or subdue a preplanned riot, has now generated much more coverage and comment than Erdogan's cynical recent decision to become a partner in the nuclear maneuvers of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It has also generated much more coverage and comment than Erdogan's long-term design to de-secularize Turkey, a design in which his recent big-mouth grandstanding on Gaza is a mere theatrical detail. What on earth are self-proclaimed humanitarian activists—as they will soon enough be called at this rate—doing in such an open alliance between one cruel and bankrupt Iranian theocracy, one religio-nationalist Turkish demagogue, and Hamas?
Israeli self-pity over Gaza—"You fire rockets at us! And after all we've done for you!"—may be incredibly unappetizing. An occupation that should never have been allowed in the first place was protracted until it became obviously unbearable for all concerned and then turned into a scuttle. The misery and shame of that history cannot be effaced by mere withdrawal or healed by the delivery of aid. It can only really be canceled by a good-faith agreement to create a Palestinian state. But Hamas is a conscious obstacle to this objective, as it shows by its dependence on foreign dictatorships and by the criminal and violent methods it has used against Fatah and the PLO.
Let me give another case in point: Hamas' charter and many of its official proclamations announce that it endorses the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a dirty anti-Semitic fabrication produced by Christian and czarist extremists and adopted by the Nazis. Would you, if you wanted to help Gaza and the Gazans, knowingly augment the power of such a flat-out racist organization by helping make it the proud and exclusive distributor of food and medicine?
Staying with this fascinating point for a moment: What if the international community put one simple question to the Hamas leadership? We will consider lifting the sanctions if you will renounce a barbaric and discredited concoction of lies that identifies all Jews everywhere as targets for murder. (The name notwithstanding, the Protocols have nothing to say about Palestine.) And what if the journalistic community—just once—was to ask a similar question of the "activists"? Do you endorse the Protocols: Yes or no? We would instantly be much closer to understanding what was meant by humanitarian.
While we wait for this puncturing of the current balloon of propaganda, we might as well savor the ironies. As well as being the two most intimate allies of the United States in the region, Turkey and Israel possess large and educated populations that want in their way to be part of "the West." They also both suffer from mediocre and banana-republic-type leaders, who are willing prisoners of clerical extremists in their own second-rate regimes. Turkey cannot be thought of as European until it stops lying about Armenia, gets its invading troops out of Cyprus, and grants full rights to its huge Kurdish population. Israel will never be accepted as a state for Jews, let alone as a Jewish state, until it ceases to govern other people against their will. The flotilla foul-up, pitting former friends against each other, only serves to obscure these unignorable facts.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Ehud Olmert and Recep Tayyip Erdogan by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images.