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The ongoing Turkish request for an Israeli apology over the killing last year of nine pro-Palestinian flotilla activists has been a major hindrance in efforts to improve Israeli-Turkish relations.
The negotiations between Israel and Turkey come at a convenient time. The Turkish elections, during which Prime Minister Erdogan employed anti-Israeli feeling as a propaganda tool, are behind us. There are no great benefits at this time for Erdogan to incite against Israel. Anti-Israel hatemongering is no longer a political necessity. It is more of a luxury, to be used when there are no other pressing issues for the Turkish government.
Putting anti-Israel incitement on ice may even help the Turks as they try to wean Israel, even just a little bit, from its warming relations with Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus – countries that view Turkey’s increased power in the region in a very negative light.
On the other hand, the continuing Syrian riots and their suppression by the country’s government pose a genuine problem for Turkey. Erdogan has no way of knowing whether President Bashir Assad will continue to govern in Damascus and for how long. Another uncertainty is whether Turkey will have to absorb more Syrian refugees.
With large parts of the Arab world in turmoil, there are other developments that require Turkey’s constant attention. Who, for example, will rule Egypt after the autumn elections – and will the new government view Turkish support for Hamas positively or negatively?
There are those who argue that strengthening Erdogan is in Israel’s interests, and if Israel were to apologize for the deaths of those killed on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, Erdogan would avoid losing face after having demanded for so long that Israel “admit its guilt.”
Apologies, say those who push the above argument, are only words; it costs Israel nothing to admit it was at fault.
The Turkish government was, however, heavily involved in many aspects of the flotilla incident. This information can be found in investigative research by Steven Merley, who specializes in political extremism.
Merley exposes Turkish government support for the flotilla, channeled through the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network. This support included the presence of officials from Turkey’s ruling AKP party at many important Muslim Brotherhood network events in support of the flotilla, as well as a meeting attended by Erdogan himself with a delegation of the Global Muslim Brotherhood and flotilla movement leaders from Britain and France. This get-together took place shortly before the ships left port for Gaza. (“Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011).
Without Turkish government support, the Mavi Marmaraprobably would never have approached Israel’s waters.
Any apology by Israel, however limited and politically calculated, would have far more negative aspects than might seem to be the case at first thought.
Israel and the Jewish people have historical experience with apologies and therefore should have a keen understanding of their importance.
Nations, as well as organizations such as the Red Cross, various church bodies and others, have apologized for their behavior during the Holocaust. Apologies by nature bring something of closure to a debate. The two parties involved jointly agree on their interpretation of the past.
After the collapse of communism, when Israel requested apologies from the newly independent nations in Eastern Europe, there were those who stressed that such apologies would not be genuine. Others maintained that those apologizing were not the ones who had committed the actual crimes.
Israel’s leadership, however, understood that official apologies play an important role as potential anchors in collective memory. They are preserved in archives and become an important source for historians. These apologies will remain well documented for future generations.
Apologizing to Turkey over the flotilla incident would, seen in that light, mean distorting Israeli history forever.
The world has had enough time by now to understand how Erdogan operates. In 2004, out of the blue, he accused Israel of state terrorism. In 2005, he came on a visit to Israel to mend fences. What probability is there that he will structurally change his future behavior in a positive way? When it becomes politically expedient to do so at home, he may well consider it opportune to attack Israel again.
If things quiet down on the Syrian border and Erdogan feels an internal or external need to once again incite against Israel, apologies – if indeed made – will be one more instrument in his arsenal of hatemongering.
Because if Israel apologizes Erdogan could then say “See, I was right to attack them continuously over the flotilla deaths.”
Israel would then find that nothing of permanence had been gained other than its unwarranted apologies – apologies to be documented until the end of time.
Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.He has published a number of research essays on the major aspects of apologies by countries and organizations for their participation in the Holocaust.
About the Author: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012). He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
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