Things are heating up out here. Tensions among Turkey’s populace arising from the Israeli government’s assault on the humanitarian aid flotilla that left from Antalya in southern Turkey have intensified an already fragile situation. Historically, Turkey has been Israel’s closest ally in the region, quite possibly Israel’s only friend amongst her Islamic neighbors. The May 31 event further ostracizes the Israeli government and (unfortunately) people, introducing even greater chill to a relationship that has already been in the refrigerator for a long while.
The event propelled existing anti-Western sentiments to manifest themselves as anti-Christian and anti-Jewish feelings across the country. This is the most troubling aspect of the entire fiasco. Initially I wanted to report simply about the protests going on here in front of the Israeli embassy in Ankara. But that is not enough.
Over the past few days I have seen thousands of Turks take to the streets in opposition to the actions of the Israeli government. It is reasonable to expect political outcry from Turks who identify themselves as pro-Palestinian Muslims. But it is very disturbing to witness the number of those who take to the street openly asserting anti-Semitism, against religious and ethnic people, in place of opposition to the actions of the Israeli government.
After going through status updates on Facebook (some of them quoting Hitler and other famous anti-Semites) and speaking with my Turkish peers I have witnessed a growing disdain, catalyzed by the Israeli government’s interception, for Judiasm as well as the West. It is wrenching to witness opposition to the actions of a nation-state manifest themselves with intense forms of religious hatred and racism.
Of course, many of my Turkish peers reject this anti-Semitism and are ready to engage in a dialogue that more thoughtfully, and humanely, examines the actions and compositions both of the flotilla and the Israeli military. But I fear that rational voices will not be heard amid the visceral reactions, which are played so loudly by mainstream media here and elsewhere.
This kind of manifestation is the most detrimental component in the conflict, issue, and region we call the Middle-East. Simply said, the hatred serves the interests of Israeli war hawks as well as Muslim extremists. The flotilla massacre and its aftermath have given energy to the undying desire, held by the hawks on sides, to wage war against enemies no matter the cost.
Sadly, the circumstances do have rigid religious underpinnings. But this is, above all else, a situation that should be dealt with on the nation-state level, not the platform of ethnicity or religion.
This was a tragedy. The responsibility for it falls directly on the shoulders of the Israeli government—and also on those who coordinated the humanitarian effort. Undoubtedly there were better ways to handle the situation. The persistence of the Israeli government in denying basic human rights to those who are living on the Gaza Strip, even going so far as to assault a group of international humanitarians, constitutes reckless behavior. Those who organized this venture ought to have recognized the severity of the situation and looked for an avenue that would have allowed them to fulfill their “real” mission of breaking the blockade and bringing humanitarian aid.
Israelis should be ashamed by the actions of their government and need to be the first ones to promote a peaceful solution. The Turks taking to the streets should be ashamed of their brethren that do invoke an anti-Semitic attitude.
In regard to the Turkish government’s stance on this issue (denouncing bilateral relations with Israel) and its actions (recalling its ambassador): More productive than submitting to homegrown anti-Semitism would be to support legislation demanding Israeli and international inquiries into the flotilla incident.
Without a doubt this issue is older than any of us on this earth, but that doesn’t mean that we need to pass it on to the next generation. No racism, ethnic hatred, nor any kind of hatred based on religion has a place in efforts to improve the situation.
Our globalized world has allowed, through technological innovations and cultural interaction, for people across all borders to sympathize and identify with social movements. The Muslim world, from Indonesia to Turkey and everywhere inbetween, has mobilized regarding this issue. They have a right to voice their disdain. They must do so in a manner that uplifts their people but does not look down on any religion.
Israel and its people need to realize that militarism will not solve this problem. To do so will require diplomacy, communication, and compromise. Those Americans who unquestioningly give their support to Israel need to take a step back and start, maybe, asking questions. All of those who empathize with the Palestinians ought to do so without associating Israel with Jewish people worldwide. And to all those who are apathetic: Step your game up but don’t just choose sides. Choose peace. The longer we go without making this choice, the more fuel goes into the fire.