When Paul Auster, an American Jewish author, recently announced he would not visit Turkey due to the current regime’s oppression and imprisonment of journalists and writers, he unsuspectingly stepped into the ring with Turkey’s haughty and pugnacious leader, Tayyip Erdoğan.
Known to be a loose cannon, the Turkish prime minister responded with surly bravado, and made questionable – even wild – claims about Israel. “Supposedly Israel is a democratic, secular country, a country where freedom of expression and individual rights and freedoms are limitless. What an ignorant man you are,” he said before a meeting of leaders of his AK party. “Aren’t these the ones that rained bombs down on Gaza? The ones that launched phosphorus bombs and used chemical weapons. How can you not see this?” he added. “This gentleman can’t see the repression and rights violations in Israel… This is serious disrespect to Turkey.”
“If you come so what? If you don’t come, so what? Will Turkey lose prestige?” Erdoğan scoffed.
Putting aside the extremely tendentious connection between journalistic freedom and Israel’s military response to Gaza’s sustained rocket campaign, and putting aside the sheer fatuousness of his comments, ie. Israel “used chemical weapons” in Gaza, Erdoğan’s use of the prime ministerial “bully pulpit” to belittle a foreign author is simply unbecoming of a world leader, especially one focused on his country’s “prestige” in the community of nations.
Besides, the fact is that Turkey has one of the highest numbers worldwide of imprisoned journalists. Unsurprisingly, the government denies that their imprisonment has anything to do with the content they produce and disseminate in the media.
Auster seems content to take the high road for now, sending a personal letter to Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu thanking him for his support and accepting his invitation to visit the country, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
Erdoğan, still clearly smarting from Auster’s original comments, continued his smug assault upon hearing of the opposition leader’s invitation. “If he does come to Turkey, they should go to Israel together afterwards. Otherwise that visit will be incomplete. They should have a picnic on a hill overlooking Gaza. They should repeat that there are no jailed journalists in Israel,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan’s record indicates that he is indeed a testy, even petty, man. Oftentimes though, when one responds so passionately and violently to another’s contention, people begin to suspect that there’s some truth to it.