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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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The Diplomacy of Rabbis (in Turkey and Beyond)


From left: Mr. Adnan Oktar, The Chief Rabbi of Geneva Rav Dr. Izhak Dayan, Dr. Mordechai Kedar

From left: Mr. Adnan Oktar, The Chief Rabbi of Geneva Rav Dr. Izhak Dayan, Dr. Mordechai Kedar

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We are all aware of the dismal state of Turkish-Israel relations, which deteriorated as a result of a long line of events: Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009), the Davos meeting between Peres and Erdoğan (January 2009) and the cancellation of the joint naval maneuver (that was to take place in October 2009). The Mavi Marmara incident (May 2010), plunged the relationship between the two countries to a new low.

Neither country hosts the other’s ambassadors. The investigative committees that functioned over the past two years failed to bridge differences of opinion. Each has demands of the other and the state of affairs between them seems to be “stuck”.

Yet, there are many people in Israel andTurkey who are very dissatisfied with the present condition of relations between the countries and long for the warmth and brotherhood that characterized the cooperation in many areas in the past.

Despite the politics, over the past two years the trade relations between the two countries actually expanded. While El Al has stopped flying to Turkey, the Turkish airline maintains a number of flights every day between the two countries and the planes are full.

And behind the scenes, some Turkish friends of Israel are working to improve the relationship between the two countries. One such person is Adnan Oktar, a Turk and a Muslim author who has been, for the past twenty-five years, publishing books and articles under the pen-name, Harun Yahya, dealing with issues regarding Darwinism, Communism, history, philosophy and religion.

Oktar has accumulated a good amount of support over the years. According to the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre of Jordan, in 2010 he was among the fifty most influential people in the Islamic world today, for his dissemination of creationism in an Islamic context and other extensively distributed publications on Islamic topics.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Oktar published a book in which he claims that true Islam rejects terror and since then he has been endeavoring to promote inter-faith dialog and to encourage mutual understanding. In his articles and books he often quotes the prophets of Israeland the vision of redemption and global peace that they gave to the world.

Oktar has accumulated more than a few rivals who try anything to silence him: He was accused, for example, of being Holocaust denier because a book under the title “The Holocaust Lie” was falsely published under his pen-name in 1995.

Because of his public support for the right of the Jewish people to live on the land of its fathers with sovereignty, independence and in true peace with its neighbors, whether Arab, Turkish, Iranians or others, his detractors claim that he is actually an agent of the Mossad.

As an Islamic thinker, Oktar prefers to conduct a dialog with believing Jews, because he finds a common cultural basis with them. To him, a God-fearing Jew is his brother, as is any person in the world who believes in God. Abraham – the “Father of Many Nations” – is the ancient father of all monotheists, and therefore there is no reason that they should bicker over anything. Peace, brotherhood and cooperation between people are the supreme values in the eyes of the Creator, and therefore war, conflict and death are contrary to His will.

These beliefs moved Oktar to invite to Turkey a delegation of religious Knesset Members and other notables, for a series of meetings with Turkey’s political echelon,  specifically the religious Justice and Development Party (the AKP), which has ruled Turkey since 2002.

The Israeli delegation included Members of Knesset Rabbi Nisim Ze’ev and Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen, who is also deputy minister of the treasury. Other prominent religious figures included the rabbi ofGeneva, Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak Dayan and Rabbi Benjamin Abramson, an adviser to the Sanhedrin. I participated as well.

Oktar and his organization provided complete funding for the meetings and members of both delegations including flights, accommodations, transportation and strictly kosher food for the Israelis.

The delegation conducted two days of hearings, one inAnkara,Turkey’s capital, and one in Istanbul. The discussions included dozens of people from the boiling cauldron of Turkish politics, most of whom are members of the AKP.

It is important to note that the AKP is not homogeneous. It has many shades and variations. Just try to imagine a religious party in Israel that includes Satmar, Shas, Degel Hatorah, Aguda, Mafdal (now the Jewish Home), as well as the Conservatives and the Reform. The wolf will live with the lamb and the tiger will lie down with the kid before such a party is established in Israel.

In Turkey, the conglomeration of the various religious factions is the apparent reason that the AKP is the largest party and therefore the ruling party (Israeli politicians please take note). It has within it many shades, radical as well as moderate, modernists as well as traditionalists, all united by their belief in God. Though it was only natural that those who met with the Israeli delegation were those with a warmer attitude to Israelthan that of Turkish prime minister, Rajab Tayyip Erdoğan.

THE DISCUSSIONS touched on numerous subjects, without circumventing any problem or skipping any obstacle. The points under discussion were the conflict betweenIsrael and the Arabs, especially Hamas; the incident at Davos; the Mavi Marmara affair; and the entire relationship betweenTurkey and Israel.

The primary meeting was held inAnkaraon Wednesday, August 15, with about twenty members of the AKP.  Initially, the atmosphere was somewhat tense, but in time it warmed up and the two sides arrived at the joint conclusion that the common challenges confrontingIsraelandTurkeytoday – from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, etc. – are much greater and more fateful than the negative events of 2008-2010.

The meeting concluded with the decision to establish a joint committee of three members from each side in order to continue the dialog, which will aim at creating a situation where the Israeli and Turkish governments will be able to find a way to restore their relationship to its prior state.

And of course, the discussions were conducted with an atmosphere of brotherhood and affection radiated by Oktar.

Statements released by participants, such as Yasar Yakis, a former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Halil Sibgin, a former Health Minister in Erdoğan’s government, reflected the mood of the meetings.  Yakis noted that “the two delegations had a friendly exchange of views on the present situation of the relations betweenTurkeyandIsrael” and “pointed out that the strained relations did not serve the interests of either side.”

Sibgin stated that the “parties should strive harder to improve” their strained relations and that such “efforts will contribute to both regional and global peace.”

While these were not official meetings between the two countries and the delegations did not view or present themselves as government representatives,  it was clear that the government of Turkey was aware of the visit, as a Turkish police cruiser accompanied and provided security for the members of the Israeli delegation in all of its movements. On the Israeli side, the participation of Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen, deputy minister of the treasury, was not a secret to the Israeli government.

The Israeli delegation also met with a representative of the secular opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (the CHP), and from this congenial meeting the delegation emerged with a positive feeling as well.

I don’t claim that Oktar and the members of both delegations have created a revolution in Israeli-Turkish relations. But we clearly felt that Israelis dear to many in Turkeyin general and particularly to some in the ruling party, the AKP, and that they feel that the time has come to find the way to enable Israeland Turkeyto end the present miserable chapter in their relations.

THE DELEGATION TO TURKEY should be seen in a wider context: for years the Islamic world aroundIsrael has been becoming increasingly religious.Turkey,Egypt,Tunisia,Morocco,Kuwait,Gaza (already an Islamic state for five years, in case you haven’t noticed), and of course, Iran – in all of them a cultural shift has occurred. As a result, there has been a political change in the direction of Islam in each country, each one according to its own style and course.

Of course there are those who say “these Muslims are all radical, all terrorists, all want to throw us into the sea, because we are a Jewish, democratic, Western and ‘liberal’ state.” While such people have a point because there will always be preachers and imams who will justify this opinion, the reality is much more complex. For the sake of comparison: How many streams of Judaism are there among the 13 million Jews in the world? How many varieties of Islam must there then be among 1.5 billion Muslims?

I do not claim that there are no extremists and terrorists in the Islamic world, but there are also others, who are not radical and not terrorists, who see themselves as no less faithful to Islam than the extremists.

Just as is true for us, many Muslims form their religious world according to their own spiritual values, according to their education and according to their cultural worldview that has been crystallized in the course of their adult life. There are among them many who are willing to accept the “Other” as he is, even if he is a Jew, Israeli and even Zionist. The courageous among them will show this. Those who are even bolder will support and fund activities intended to strengthen the standing and the regional strength of the State of Israel, but the most courageous will not try to hide their support for Israel from the media or from the public in their country.

Oktar is the most prominent example of such courageous persons, and these days, when few Muslims are willing to identify withIsrael, Oktar’s activity of people and State of Israel must be praised.

SUPRISINGLY, it seems that Muslims who are faithful to Islam feel more comfortable with traditional Jews, who share their faith in God, and it may be that the arduous and laborious path of Israel into the heart of the Muslim world that surrounds it may be paved by rabbis, with their beards, their skull-caps and long black coats. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs need not enlist as cadets the men who warm the benches of the Porat Yosef or Panevezys yeshivas, but nevertheless, it seems the appropriate people to conduct a discourse with Muslims are those who are faithful to their religion and tradition and not the cultural disciples of Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin or Alon Liel.

The path to our neighbors’ hearts, both those who are more and those who are less sympathetic, is ultimately paved with personal contact. The delegation toTurkey proved, at least to me, that it is important forIsrael to be represented in a way that will make it easier for our traditional neighbors to accept us: that the state of Israel is not entirely secular and liberal.

We have among us enough traditional people, who, because of the respect that our neighbors have for tradition, can manage the contacts betweenIsraeland its neighbors so as not to generate cultural aversion. While it is important that they speak the languages of the area – Arabic, Turkish and Persian – and undergo professional diplomatic training, it will be easier for them to come to diplomatic achievements with our Muslim and traditional neighbors, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office should take this into consideration.

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About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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