In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have once again been ratcheting up the tone in their clash of the colonisers. This time around, it wasn’t only words which were exchanged, but Turkey’s decision to kick out the Israeli ambassador and pull its own ambassador from Tel Aviv.
As Israeli forces massacred 59 Palestinians in cold blood on the same day that the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem, Erdogan was in London where Prime Minister Theresa May rolled out the red carpet for him. Erdogan used his opportunity during the press conference with Theresa May to denounce the brutal actions of Israel, saying “Israel will not be forgiven. That’s what we are going to witness in the future too. It all boils down to the fact of making a choice – are we going to side with the strong or side with those who are right?”
That there is hypocrisy oozing from the mouth of Erdogan is all too blatant. To those who have followed his war on the Kurdish Freedom Movement, including the Turkish occupation of Afrin in Syria, he is the last person with any degree of a moral or ethical imperative to speak against Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.
His open tweet to Netanyahu on the same day in which he once again emphasised his support for Hamas is perhaps the most revealing. Erdogan tweeted, “Reminder to Netanyahu: Hamas is not a terrorist organisation and Palestinians are not terrorists. It is a resistance movement that defends the Palestinian homeland against an occupying power. The world stands in solidarity with the people of Palestine against their oppressors.”
Perplexing to say the least. Kurdish activists and their supporters reacted quickly by changing the text to suit a different context, replacing ‘Hamas’ with ‘PKK’ and ‘Palestinians’ with ‘Kurds’. It is evident that Erdogan is incapable of seeing his own hypocrisy, even when it is on full display for the world to witness.
The Gaza Massacre
The same undoubtedly holds true for Benjamin Netanyahu, who has railed against Erdogan for his invasion of Afrin and Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus. Somehow Netanyahu doesn’t exactly seem to be the ideal person to level criticism against his dictatorial brother from another mother “whose hands are in the blood of countless Kurdish citizens in Turkey and Syria”, as he said in their Twitter war of words.
As Palestinians prepared to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (the ‘catastrophe’, which refers to the ethnic cleansing which accompanied the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948) on May 15, the United States added insult to injury by deciding to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv one day earlier. While Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka was all smiles along with Israeli government officials, the scenes from Gaza couldn’t be more horrifying.
That the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians was captured on video for the world to see shows that the Israeli authorities truly believe they can act with impunity. This is a reflection of how emboldened Netanyahu and his government feel given the decision by Donald Trump regarding the embassy that essentially kills any prospect of a two-state solution, or Washington being able to act as a broker of the peace process in the years to come.
As Khaled Barakat, a leftist Palestinian writer said in conversation with the Media Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), “Today, the triangle of aggression confronted by the Palestinian people is the same one as it has always been – imperialism, Zionism and Arab reactionary regimes. This is manifest today in the relationship between Trump, Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman – the true ‘axis of evil’. It is in this context and against these forces that our people in Gaza are leading, for the past month and a half, these heroic and brave popular efforts under the slogan of return and breaking the siege.”
Erdogan’s AKP: Truly Against Israel?
As Erdogan aims to consolidate his authoritarian grip on Turkey in the snap election called for June 24th, he has aimed to present himself and his ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) as the leadership of the Islamic world’s resistance to the Zionist project in Palestine.
However, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which Erdogan attempts to characterise as a Kurdish front organisation for ‘terrorists’, has called the AKP’s bluff on their illusory vanguard role in defending the Palestinian cause.
At the last group meeting of the HDP before the upcoming elections, Party co-chair Sezai Temelli revealed just how hollow Erdogan’s words on the Palestinian liberation movement have been, saying “It is not solidarity with the Palestinian people [what the AKP government is showing], it is using this issue politically, turning it into propaganda material for the coming elections. Because what we see happening now with Palestine, we have seen it happening with Afrin, Sur, Cizre. If you want to stand side by side with the Palestinian people, let's end this commercial, political and military deals with Israel. Let's end all these deals together, Parliament. Shall we cancel them now? No. They don’t speak about these. What you are doing against the Kurdish people, the Israeli government is doing against the Palestinian people. When you are part of the problem in these lands, you cannot produce a solution. And yes, indeed, you are part of the problem”.
Temelli’s words provide a sharp summary of the hypocritical rhetoric of Erdogan’s government vis-à-vis the Palestinian question. There is hardly the serious prospect that the AKP government, for all of its tough talk about Israeli crimes, will consider an end to the lucrative military and commercial deals with Tel Aviv. At the end of the day, these colonial powers have a great deal more in common than they both care to admit.
Internationalism: The Stance of the PKK
In light of the unspeakable inhumanity of the massacre in Gaza on May 14, the executive committee of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issued a statement on the atrocity, saying “The Kurdish people and the Palestinian people share a similar fate. Despite the great struggle Kurds and Palestinians carry out, Turkey and Israel, thanks to the external support, keep violating the basic rights of Kurdish and Palestinian peoples, and to implement their genocidal colonialism.”
The PKK statement also pointed out that the United States has been inextricably linked to the subjugation of the Kurdish and Palestinian people, saying “Turkey has actually learned the most complex techniques in the dirty war against the Kurdish people's struggle for freedom from Israel and the United States. The Turkish State and the AKP government have been supported by these countries in their war against Kurds, even if today they share crocodile tears on the massacre of the Palestinian people. Soon F-35 aircraft to be bought from the United States will be the most concrete proof of this. Turkey has produced the unmanned aerial vehicles that they boast very much about with techniques learned from Israel and the United States.”
Erdogan’s Crocodile Tears
Crocodile tears is indeed an apt description for Erdogan’s position regarding the Palestinian liberation movement. While his government supports Hamas with one hand, it continues its indispensable cooperation with Israel on the other.
The relationship between Turkey and Israel has a long and enduring history. Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize the government in Tel Aviv in 1949. This led to major military and security cooperation between the two states in the decades that followed. Perhaps most notably, in 1999 Israel’s intelligence service Mossad played a key role in the international plot to capture PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Throughout that decade, Israeli-Turkish military cooperation had deepened as Ankara increasingly looked to Tel Aviv for the delivery of weapons, and Israeli pilots used an airbase in Konya province.
Erdogan’s approach to Israel has indeed shown differences with those of previous Turkish leaders. The Islamist orientation of the AKP means that at least in rhetoric, Israel is often proclaimed to be an enemy, a sharp contrast to the positions of Turkish governments that held Kemalist orientations. Still, Erdogan proceeded with business as usual once taking office as Prime Minister in 2003, bring several businesspeople with him on his 2005 trip to Tel Aviv and pledging to continue the close ties between the two countries. After the 2010 Gaza freedom flotilla massacre in which nine activists were killed onboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, relations were suspended. In 2016, a reconciliation deal was reached that restored diplomatic relations; however, even in the intermediate six years, trade had actually increased between the two countries.
Whatever the ideological schisms that exist between Erdogan’s government and Israel on the one hand -- and the west on the other -- it is clear that as NATO’s second biggest army, Turkey still plays an indispensable link in the imperialist world system. This understanding was borne out in the PKK statement on the Gaza massacre. They made clear that it isn’t actually Erdogan who is a true friend to the Palestinian people, but that “The alliance and the common struggle of the Kurdish and Arab peoples will play a historical role in liberating the whole of the peoples of the Middle East.”