In the harshest public words by an Israeli minister toward Turkey in months, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Ankara’s demand for an apology over the Mavi Marmara incident is “beyond chutzpa.”
“There will be no apologies, and if so, we’re waiting for one from Turkey,” Lieberman said at an annual gathering of Israel’s ambassadors and counsel-generals at the Foreign Ministry. Ankara needed to apologize for its cooperation with terrorists, such as the IHH – which organized the violent incident aboard the Mavi Marmara – Hamas and Hizbullah, he said…
Lieberman’s comments came on the same day that some 10,000 people welcomed the Mavi Marmara back to Istanbul. Hundreds of balloons were released as the ship sailed into Istanbul’s Sarayburnu port, following repairs at a port on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. The activists, mostly members of pro-Islamic groups, waved Palestinian and Turkish flags and chanted “Down with Israel” and “Allah is Great” as they greeted the vessel. Protesters also boarded boats to welcome the approaching ship, which was adorned with a poster of the nine Turks killed during the raid.
Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog [Labor Party] took issue with Lieberman’s comments, issuing a statement saying that as foreign minister Lieberman does not understand that his job was to “open doors,” not slam them shut.
Herzog said that [Turkish FM] Davutoglu’s comments in their entirety showed that he was interested in reconciliation with Israel and indicated that a “window of opportunity has been opened to renew relations between the two countries.”
Herzog said Israel did not have the “privilege” to miss this opportunity, even if it “demands Israeli flexibility,” and that a way to repair ties with Turkey needed to be found, even if it entailed “bypassing” Lieberman.
In many ways nations aren’t like people. Applying ideas that normally apply to relations between individuals to relations between nations can be what philosophers call a ‘category mistake’.
One of the concepts that’s often abused in this way is that of ‘friendship’. Between people, it means a warm relationship, a relationship that allows one to let down one’s guard, to trust, depend on, and to confide in the other. Perhaps diplomats may feel friendship in this sense for other diplomats, but nations do not. Between nations, ‘friendship’ means a congruence of interests which allows them to work in concert. A good example might be the relationship of the US and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945, when they worked together to defeat Hitler. After 1945, ‘Uncle Joe’ was no longer our ‘friend’, he was our ‘enemy’. But what changed?
This particular logical fallacy is of great use to a regime that needs to get its population on its side to support its policies. So a great deal is made about the relationship of Turkey and Israel being ‘warm’ or ‘cool’. Turkey, says PM Erdoğan, requires an apology — the nation was ‘insulted’ by the Mavi Marmara affair (in which Turkish thugs tried to kill Israelis and got killed themselves).
Nations cannot be insulted. That is a category mistake. But nations can hold general elections, and that is what Turkey will be doing in 2011. So Erdoğan’s strategy is to create a lot of anger and then to force Israel to ‘apologize’. Thus he proves that he is strong, that he is the champion of Islam and the Palestinians, that he defends the ‘honor’ of Turkey and humiliates the hated Israel. And gets re-elected.
Since Erdoğan’s Islamist AK party took over in 2002, relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated as Turkey positions itself closer to the Iranian bloc and farther from the US. In 2009, Erdoğan took the opportunity of the war in Gaza to demonstrate his righteous anger at Israel by stomping off a stage he shared with Israel’s Shimon Peres at Davos, Switzerland.
The AK party has also repressed Turkey’s armed forces, accusing generals of conspiracies against the state. Some of them are being tried now, and face up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted. The military has traditionally been a secularizing influence, and has overthrown governments in the past, so a coup isn’t impossible, although some of the charges are fantastic.
The Turkish military is also the group that has seen the most advantage from a relationship with Israel, buying weapons and sharing intelligence, providing another reason for Turkish Islamists to attack Israel.
Israel should not try to appease Turkey in the present crisis. For one thing, it’s impossible. Erdoğan’s goal is to get re-elected and reconciliation with Israel would remove a hugely effective issue. An apology would be spun as a triumph over a despicable foe, would help Erdoğan’s prospects and would not improve relations. Israel’s objective with Turkey should be to defeat the AKP, not enable it.
Just because nations don’t have emotions doesn’t mean that the emotions felt by individuals aren’t dangerous. The demonization of Israel so widespread in Arab countries, Turkey, Iran and even the UK motivates terrorists to act, against Israel if they can, or against softer Jewish targets. Probably more important, the overall climate of opinion created by the overwhelming volume of anti-Israel propaganda makes it easier for countries to justify actions against Israel — actions taken, as always, in emotion-free pursuit of their perceived interests.
An apology or anything that even looks like one will be a lost battle in the infowar. It will imply that Israel lied about the incident and present Israel as impotent and fearful. A weak horse. A loser.
So Lieberman is right and Herzog is wrong, in the information realm as well as the diplomatic one.