The attempt by some elements of the Turkish military to wrestle power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend will not endanger Ankara’s commitment to reconciliation with Israel, but could stir anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic sentiment, a former Turkish lawmaker warned Saturday, pointing to a “dramatic rise in vigilantism and Islamist hate speech.”
Populist politicians in Turkey tend to blame either Israel or a Jewish conspiracy for most evils befalling their country, said Aykan Erdemir, who served as a member of parliament for the opposition CHP party from 2011 until 2015. “Thanks to the ongoing Turkish-Israeli normalization, Israel and Jews were spared from such hate speech and scapegoating this time.”
Turkish Labor Minister Süleyman Soylu has blamed the US for instigating the failed coup, “which indicates that the US has replaced Israel as the main scapegoat of populist politicians for now,” Erdemir said.
However, he added, “since the failed coup attempt, there is a dramatic rise in vigilantism and Islamist hate speech on Turkish streets. It is only a matter of time [before] the crowds scapegoat minorities.”
While Erdogan’s government will continue to seek to normalize ties with Israel, supporters of his AKP party “could take advantage of the current unrest and mobilization to propagate anti-Israeli and antisemitic messages,” Erdemir, who is currently a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, told The Times of Israel. “This could be an unforeseen result of AKP supporters’ street activism.”
Erdemir noted that Jerusalem on Saturday issued a statement in support of the democratic process in Turkey, effectively backing Erdogan, and that Israel’s most senior diplomat in Ankara, Amira Oron, attended an extraordinary session of the Turkish parliament called by Erdogan’s government.
“These gestures will be welcomed across the political spectrum in Turkey, and would further bolster the ongoing normalization process.”
There is no reason to fear that the events over the weekend could jeopardize the Israeli-Turkish reconciliation deal, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on June 27 and was approved by the security cabinet two days later, Erdemir said.
“In fact, the less secure Erdogan feels at home, the more likely he is to mend ties abroad,” said Erdemir, who also teaches at Bilkent University’s department of political science and public administration.
Nimrod Goren, a Turkey expert at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also said that the thwarted putsch was unlikely to derail the agreement. However, he predicted that it now will take longer for Ankara to finalize the process, since that entails the Turkish parliament approving the deal.
“I estimate that the failed coup could slow down the normalization process — not because of lack of political will but because Turkey’s domestic focus will be elsewhere,” he told The Times of Israel.
The agreement between Ankara and Jerusalem last month stipulates that before the two sides exchange ambassadors and restore full diplomatic relations, the Turkish parliament has to pass a law protecting IDF troops who participated in the 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, during which nine Turks were killed, from criminal and civil claims.
“Now I am not sure how high this is going to be on the national agenda in Turkey,” said Goren, who heads Mitvim — The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
In March 2013, Netanyahu telephoned Erdogan and apologized for “operational mistakes” in the flotilla incident, and vowed to “conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability,” according to a statement the Prime Minister’s Office issued at the time.
Mere weeks after that phone call, which was initiated by Netanyahu at the behest of US President Barack Obama, the so-called Gezi Park protests broke out in Turkey.
“This changed the order of national priorities,” Goren said, “and the same could happen this time too.”