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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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The Tragedy Of Turkey’s Turning On Israel

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The Jewish debt to the Turks goes back centuries, to when the Ottomans took in thousands of Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Moreover, when Israel was shunned for decades by nearly every Muslim country, it was Turkey that was Israel’s military ally and commercial trading partner.

            Even in the midst of growing Turkish hostility toward Israel, it behooves us not to forget this debt of gratitude.

I visited Istanbul as a yarmulke-wearing, tzitzis-flying rabbi and was warmly welcomed by Muslims everywhere. On her way back from Israel last year, my wife went through Istanbul with five of our children, including our baby, and was amazed at how many Muslim merchants gave the baby presents.
My family came away smitten with Turkey.
But my call for Jewish memory and gratitude is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain thanks to that country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made himself into a living fountain of anti-Israel invective. His latest attack on the Jewish state beggared belief.
Israel, he said on CNN, “shows no mercy” and is “cruel” in its treatment of Palestinians. Not content to trade on old stereotypes of Jews being vindictive and heartless, he trivialized Jewish suffering under the rain of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas and offered up nothing less than a blood libel, claiming “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were killed” as a result of military action by Israel.
The truth is that the Israeli military – especially given the level of the threat it faces – is one of the most humane and restrained in the world. Palestinians, on the other hand, have declared a non-stop war of annihilation against the Jewish state; Hamas’s 1988 charter plainly calls for the complete obliteration and dissolution of Israel.
That Erdogan would speak as though Israel callously attacks innocent pacifists rather than those who for years have launched rocket attacks against Israeli hospitals, kindergartens and family homes is an indication of deep-seated hostility to the Jewish state.

Exactly how many Palestinians have died over the course of the two intifadas? The most accurate estimate, drawn from sources including the United Nations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and assorted human rights groups, puts the numbers at 1,376 killed by Israeli security forces and 1,000 by other Palestinians during the first intifada; 4,850 by Israeli security forces and 594 by other Palestinians during the second intifada. (It bears mentioning that during the second intifada 1,062 Israelis died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.)

            This is a far cry from Erdogan’s libel of hundreds of thousands of deaths and the attempt to decontextualize the deaths of even these thousands.

            Starting in the 1960s, the PLO made a global name for itself through international terror. In 1969 alone, the PLO hijacked 82 planes. In the 1972 Olympics it murdered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, Palestinians have killed 53 Americans and injured 83 others.

            But if Erdogan were truly concerned about Palestinian life, as indeed he and all of us ought to be, he would condemn the unbelievable Arab-on-Arab violence that has left far greater numbers dead. As mentioned above, in the first intifada more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by the PLO, most of them for supposedly “informing” for Israel.

            As early as the 1930s revolts in Palestine, Arabs fought each other. During the Lebanese Civil War, two Palestinian movements battled one another, leaving thousands of Palestinians dead.

            According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Hamas has killed and tortured thousands of Palestinians who oppose their rule.

            Between 1986 and 1989, in the Al-Anfal genocidal campaign against the Kurds and others, Saddam Hussein had his army kill 200,000 of his own civilians. Saddam, as The New York Times noted in 2007, had during his bloody rule, “murdered as many as a million of his people.” The vast majority of those people were, of course, Arabs.

            I am a religious Jew who believes that Arabs are my brothers and are, of course, children of God in every way. The death of even a single Palestinian is a tragedy. But what choice does Israel have when the Palestinians launch wave after wave of horrific terror against innocent Israeli men, women and children?

           Will Erdogan condemn the United States for the thousands of Taliban fighters it has killed in Afghanistan? Will he deplore American Predator strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan? Since when is there a moral equivalence between the taking of a life in self defense and the taking of a life in an act of cold-blooded murder?

             Just as it is proper for us to try to overlook Turkey’s current leader and remember the age-old friendship between Turks and Jews, it behooves the Turks to rein in their prime minister and stop his character assassination of Israel.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of the Global Institute for Values Education, has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley). Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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