One of the little noticed side effects of Israel’s war on Gaza has been a substantial souring of relations with Turkey. The Israelis had had a relatively close diplomatic, military and trade relationship with secular, Kemalist Turkey. The rise of the Justice and Development Party from 2002, however, has created new complications, since that party is mildly tinged with Muslim political themes. It is the first such party that has managed to survive any length of time without provoking a coup by the militantly secular Turkish military.
For a secular Turkey with typically bad relations with its Arab neighbors (Baathist Syria and Iraq), the Israel alliance made a lot of sense. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Justice and Development has improved relations with Syria and as a believing Muslim he has a better entree into the Arab world generally.
Since the attack on Gaza began, there have been regular massive demonstrations in Istanbul and elsewhere. Even in Diyarbakr in eastern Anatolia, 50,000 people came out for a recent rally, which united Turks and Kurds, secularists and the religious. The people most likely to demonstrate in favor of Gaza are the same, more Muslim-oriented urban crowds that voted for the Justice and Development Party. The crowds are thusputting significant pressure on PM Erdogan.
In this crisis, PM Erdogan has been scathing toward Israel, deeply angering the current government. He told parliament on Tuesday, They say my criticism is harsh, I assume it is not as harsh as phosphorus bombs or fire from tanks … I am reacting as a human and a Muslim.”
All across Turkey on Tuesday at 11 am, students in schools were ordered to observe a minute of silence for the victims in Gaza. I’ve been following Turkey since I first went there in 1976, and I can’t remember hearing anything quite like this.
The Turkish Consumers Association is spearheading a Turkish consumer boycott of Israeli-made goods.
Turkey is Israel’s eighth largest trading partner, with trade between the two countries worth over $2.6 bn a year in 2007.
Israel’s economy depends heavily on foreign trade, which accounts for 80 percent of its GDP.
There is a dispute about whether this downturn in relations between Turkey and Israel is a hiccup or whether it is a negative secular trend, with Turkey looking increasingly like the rest of the Middle East, which does very little business with Israel.
Even in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and had in the 1990s supplied up to a third of Israeli petroleum, the Gaza War is hardening attitudes and has produced massive demonstrations little covered in the US media. In 2005, Egypt had made a deal to sell natural gas to Israel, but the supreme court struck it down last fall on the grounds that such an arrangement requires the approval of parliament. It is hard to imagine even Egypt’s docile parliament, dominated by the ruling party, voting for such a thing any time soon. Israel has replaced Egyptian petroleum for the most part with oil from Russia and Kazakhstan.
I think over time there is a real danger of Israel risking boycotts and economic strangulation if it continues with Apartheid policies in the Occupied territories.