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October 8, 2015 / 25 Tishri, 5776
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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

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.

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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