As Israelis, we should sympathize with the Turkish people as they fight for true democracy and human rights.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As we speak, the Turkish government is committing a great injustice against the Turkish people. A group of Turkish environmentalists, who wanted nothing more than to save the last green area of Istanbul, located in the Taksim Gezi Park, from being developed into a shopping mall were brutally attacked by the Turkish police with tear gas and water canons. Since then, a massive protest movement has erupted in Turkey, calling for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign. Many Turks are upset with Erdogan’s government for brutally suppressing dissent and trying to make Turkish society more Islamist in nature, which are sentiments that Israelis should sympathize with.
Erdogan’s government has imposed tighter restrictions on alcohol consumption; has jailed hundreds of journalists, opposition leaders, and military officers who opposed his rule; and his country presently leads the world in the number of journalists behind bars. Erdogan’s critics as a result frequently complain about the status of freedom of the press and democracy within Turkey. Additionally, Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk, Turkish pianist Fazil Say, and the late Armenian journalist Hrant Dink were all prosecuted for voicing their political views. For these reasons, Freedom House doesn’t rank Turkey as fully free, despite the existence of democratic elections.
The present situation in Turkey illustrates perfectly the lack of freedom that exists within the country. Peaceful Turkish citizens have been killed, beaten, wounded, and arrested, just for voicing their objections to Erdogan’s government. “The police’s record on abusive policing has been surpassed as they use tear gas and water cannon fire against peaceful demonstrators,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to respect the right to protest and to speak out is fueling discontent among people in Turkey.”
While it is true that some of the protesters have violently responded to Turkish police brutality, the Turkish protesters who have engaged in violence are in fact the minority. Most of the protesters are peaceful and inside sources claim that most of the demonstrators have reacted adversely to demonstrators who have chosen the path of violence. Inside Turkish sources who are on the ground in Istanbul claim that there is a wide coalition of people protesting against Erdogan, not just communists. This coalition includes members of the CHP, Turkey’s main secular opposition; Kurdish activists; and even local soccer fans. In fact, some religious people with hijabs are now reportedly joining the demonstrations against Erdogan. Thus, to loop all of these people together as communists, when only a fraction of the protesters are communist, doesn’t accurately reflect the reality. Furthermore, there is no evidence so far showing that the demonstrators have taken any stance against Israel. So why should we Israelis not support them?
Given all of this, as an Israeli, I believe that I should stand behind the people who are fighting for human rights, freedom, and real democracy. Israelis should support people who are opposed to radical Islam and authoritarian rule. This should especially be the case when such protesters have taken no anti-Israel actions, while the present regime in Turkey has taken hostile actions against Israel, such as attempting to illegally break the Gaza blockade, hosting Hamas representatives within Turkey, and making numerous anti-Israel statements. In fact, not too long ago, a study by the Hrant Dink Foundation found that in Erdogan’s Turkey, Jews have become the number one target of hate speech within the Turkish media. For these reasons, I take to heart what Nobel Prize winning author Elie Wiesel once said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” As an Israeli, I will continue to protest against the injustices being committed against the Turkish people by Erdogan’s government.
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