Silencing today’s young Turks
Hebrew media review

Silencing today’s young Turks

The Hebrew-language press watches worriedly as a newspaper opposed to Turkey's president is shut down by authorities

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Zaman supporter reads the latest edition of the Turkish daily newspaper in front of the newspaper's headquarters in Istanbul on March 5, 2016, after Turkish authorities seized the headquarters in a midnight raid. (AFP/Ozan Kose)
A Zaman supporter reads the latest edition of the Turkish daily newspaper in front of the newspaper's headquarters in Istanbul on March 5, 2016, after Turkish authorities seized the headquarters in a midnight raid. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

The shuttering of a major Turkish newspaper opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday and the ensuing violent clashes outside the premises of the daily’s offices raise serious concerns in Israel, as the Hebrew media outlets attempt to decipher the implications of such a controversial move for Turkey’s democratic foundations, and on the possibility, however small, that similar events may occur in the Jewish state.

Showing its support for the Turkish daily Zaman, the paper targeted by Turkish authorities, Yedioth Ahronoth prominently features an op-ed written by one of the paper’s senior editors in Ankara, who recounts the massive raid on the journal’s offices as experienced by the reporters and staff workers who were inside at the premise at the time.

“The [police] broke into our newsdesk, our offices,” Abdullah Bozkurt writes. “When we asked them to show us a warrant regarding the blatant invasion of our place of work, the cops refused our request. Instead, they began using pepper spray and water cannons against our editors, our reporters — and also against our many readers who came to the site in order to protest… It is hard to describe such a blatant breach of the rule of law.”

A shocked Bozkurt stresses that despite the closure of his paper’s offices, he is nevertheless optimistic about his country’s future and pledges to continue fighting for free expression and a free press in Turkey. “We are a nation of 80 million people with significant diversity, dynamism and great determination,” he continues. “At the end of the day, Turkey will overcome these challenges. Under the real threat of imprisonment, I and my journalist friends will stride on.”

Under an overline reading “Democracy in danger,” Yedioth quotes Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai warning of “signs of resemblance between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Erdogan.”

Perhaps it is deliberate that Yedioth chooses to be ambiguous over which state, Israel or Turkey, is in threat of its democracy collapsing — the paper is famous for its lack of love for Netanyahu; Huldai’s attack on the prime minister is presented as is, with no commentary or moderation on the daily’s part.

“The very idea and principle of democracy bothers [Netanyahu]. Look at the number of offices and domains in which Netanyahu is involved [and] the newspaper that serves as his mouthpiece,” Yedioth reports Huldai as saying at an event at the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv on Saturday. One can safely assume that the newspaper Huldai is referring to is Israel Hayom, which is funded in part by American-Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close acquaintance of the Israeli prime minister. “Erdogan, with the tools of democracy, is turning Turkey to a religious state according to the laws of Sharia. We must be very aware of this and do everything possible in order to avert such a deterioration here as well.”

In Haaretz, analyst Zvi Bar’el provides a long history of Erdogan’s infringements on civil rights in Turkey, particularly with regard to the country’s Kurdish minority and anti-government news outlets. Bar’el explains that the Turkish president can get away with these moves in part because of the European countries’ reliance on Ankara to serve as a sort of barrier against an influx of Syrian refugees and migrants from entering the continent. The European Union, Bar’el says, would not want to risk the crumbling of this status quo, and is not likely therefore to take any major steps toward curbing Erdogan’s anti-democratic activities in the near future.

Israel Hayom is less concerned with the unraveling drama in Turkey, instead focusing on the ever-wilder roller coaster ride that is the Republican presidential primaries in the US. Writer Boaz Bismuth delves into the inner deliberations of the Republican party establishment which, on the one hand, is growing increasingly wary of the possibility that firebrand front-runner Donald Trump will win the nomination, and on the other, is not keen to back current runner-up Ted Cruz. Regardless of the primary results, however, Bismuth advises the Republican establishment not to lose sight of the “real opponent,” Democratic party front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The Hebrew-language papers continue to dedicate extensive coverage to top IDF general Ofek Buchris, who last week was accused of sexually assaulting two women who served under his command several years ago. Israel Hayom reporter Lilach Shoval notes that while Buchris is set to be interrogated by the army’s internal investigation unit later this week, the high-ranking official’s former bureau chief has come out in his defense, urging the public “not to do him wrong.”

Shoval also reports, however, that one of the woman who accused Buchris of sexual assault had written to the IDF officer over a year ago saying that he should accept responsibility for his acts and issue an apology. Yedioth also places emphasis on the letter to Buchris, stressing that the officer’s attorneys had acknowledged that he received it, but also noting that the written accusation did not explicitly contain any reference to sexual crimes, but rather to inappropriate acts. Buchris, who had already undergone a lie detector test last week in connection with the case, has agreed to to another such examination in his upcoming interrogation, Israel Hayom reports.

Finally, Israel Hayom devotes a small section of its front page, and another article later on, to the 25th wedding anniversary of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. The couple, according to the paper, over the weekend celebrated the event on vacation in the village of Ramot in the Golan Heights. The two also visited the archaeological sites of Gamla and Umm el Kanatir. “We were [at the Golan Heights] 27 years ago, before we were married, and today we returned there, to the place that speaks to our hearts,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post. “It is impossible not to fall in love [with the region], the amazing views, the deepness of our historical roots in the land of Israel.”

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