The Difference between Israeli Policy and Turkish: Calling Each other Terrorist State

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

First, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, in which he said,

“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state . . . [Turkey] will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state . . . Jerusalem is the light of our eyes. We won’t leave it to the conscience of a state that only values occupation and looting. We will continue our struggle decisively within the law and democracy.”

Erdogan continued, “Palestine is oppressed and a victim. Israel is absolutely a state of occupation. Israel has never recognized any decision adopted concerning it, especially United Nations decisions, and it will never do so . . .”

He projected maps demonstrating that Israel has steadily expanded its territory at the expense of the Palestinians. He said, “Look at this scene, do you see this treachery?”

He then projected a photo of a Palestinian boy blindfolded and encompassed by Israeli soldiers.

“Look at how these terrorists are dragging a 14-year-old blindfolded child.”

He concluded,

“We will continue to stand with the oppressed. We will use every opportunity we have for our first qibla, Jerusalem. We’ve been carrying out intense phone diplomacy since the dire decision of the U.S. I’ve held phone calls with the heads of many governments and states, including the Pope. We’ve told them that this issue is not one that only concerns Muslims; it is also the seizure of the rights of Christians. But I must say clearly that this step of the U.S. is completely an [Evangelical] understanding,”


Despite Erdogan’s vehemence, Israel and Turkey have extensive economic and security relations.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Paris meeting French president Emmanuel Macron, who pressured him to take a less harsh line toward the poor militarily Occupied Palestinians, from whom Israel is daily stealing rights and territory.

Netanyahu embarrassed Macron by using their joint press conference as an opportunity to shoot back at Erdogan.

“I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people . . . That is not the man who is going to lecture us.”

So who has the better case? Both Israel and Turkey are major abusers of human rights. Israel has reduced 4 million Palestinians to colonial subjects virtually without human or property rights, denying them citizenship in a state and all the legal standing that comes from such citizenship.

Given what Netanyahu did to Gaza, he has a lot of nerve complaining about the bombing of villages.

Erdogan’s Turkey has fired 150,000 people from their jobs and jailed tens of thousands, including journalists and professors, on charges of being sympathetic to the failed July 15, 2016 attempted coup, while others are being tried for being sympathetic to Kurdish human rights. Since 2015 Erdogan has been waging a concerted battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party, which in the past has had secessionist and far left tendencies, and which launched a series of attacks on Turkish police and army.

Turkey is on firmer legal ground on the Kurdistan issue than Israel is on the Palestine issue, however.

Turkey as a member state of the United Nations is within its rights to resist violent attempts at secession. Most Turkish Kurds in any case don’t want to secede, according to decades of opinion polling, and Kurds are by now spread all around the country as laborers. They all have been schooled in Turkish and enjoy Turkish citizenship. Erdogan’s repression of dissident Kurdish villages has been barbarous and has violated the basic rights of these Turkish citizens, but Ankara wants them as citizens and they can vote in elections and be represented in the republic. The minority that wants a different citizenship is unhappy, but they are not stateless.

As for press freedom, Israel has far more of it than Turkey. But even the relatively conservative Freedom House has slammed Netanyahu for eroding press freedoms in the country. Israel practices military censorship of reporters and bloggers and has gone after Palestinians for Facebook posts. Netanyahu has allowed his billionaire backer, allegedly corrupt casino owner Sheldon Adelson, to engage in what economists call dumping– putting out a free newspaper aimed at undermining the other, paid-for newspapers in the country.

But the biggest difference in the human rights is the Israeli Apartheid system in the West Bank and its ongoing siege of little Gaza. Israel destroyed Gaza’s airport and harbor and radically interferes in its commerce, even limiting the importation of building materials, and for some years mean-spiritedly proclaimed that its children would have no chocolate and that Palestinians there would get no more calories than were necessary to keep them from malnutrition. They overshot the mark, since substantial numbers of Palestinian children in Gaza do suffer forms of malnutrition. Unemployment is massive. People are denied exit permits for advanced medical care and die as a result. All that isn’t just a human rights violation, it is Dr. Strangelove-level CREEPY.

As for the Occupied West Bank, Israeli soldiers patrol it in hobnail boots. The government steals land and gives it away to Israeli colonists. Water is diverted to those colonists. Palestinians are made to carry passes, just as Black South Africans had to carry passes in the days of White supremacist rule. A set of checkpoints and highways have carved up the West Bank and isolated Palestinian towns from one another. Palestinians have no rights of citizenship, just as White Afrikaners took away citizenship from Black South Africans and assigned them to fictive Bantustans.

Apartheid is a serious crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of 2002.

Israel treats fully 1/3 of the people living under its rule in this way.

The international law on occupied territories does not permit Israel to flood hundreds of thousands of its citizens into the West Bank. It prohibits the annexation of the substantial territories around Jerusalem. It forbids making alterations in the lifeways of the occupied. I would argue that the law envisages a relatively short occupation during active warfare and that this is no longer such an occupation. It is just old-fashioned settler colonialism of a sort forbidden by the UN Charter.

So for all the very serious human rights abuses in which Erdogan’s government is engaged, if we look at the problem proportionally there isn’t any doubt that Israel’s abuses are far more systemic and grave. After all, in 2014 Erdogan wasn’t even involved in a struggle with the PKK, with which he had a dialogue. And, Turkey does not keep 1/3 of its population as stateless.

Few states allow secession, and successful secessions have always resulted from negotiations. I personally doubt that most Turkish Kurds would even vote to secede if given the opportunity. Most of their economic prospects lie in the west of Turkey. Turkey is not in principle more guilty of oppressing the Kurds than Spain is of oppressing the Basque and Catalan. It is guilty of sending in the army and behaving much more brutally than Spain.

In contrast, Israel is unique worldwide in keeping millions of people as chattel, refusing them the rights of citizenship. That is legally a very different matter than insisting they have the citizenship they’ve already been given.

So on this one, Netanyahu loses. That is not to say that Erdogan has many redeeming features, or that he isn’t responsible for ruining Turkey’s fledgling democracy and withdrawing many basic rights from his citizens.

Both of them are actually engaging in this grandstanding to take attention of the serious corruption cases being pursued against them.


Related video:

WION: “Israel and Turkey’s Jerusalem standoff”

9 Responses

  1. You are of course correct, professor to highlight the wrong doings of both Turkey and Israel, but in essence the old proverb about the kettle calling the pot black sums up the positions of both parties. The real problem is that over used word “security” which is used the world over to justify terrible human rights abuses. I doubt there are many countries in the world that honestly say they have never, or aren’t currently abusing human rights. Between the need for ever more resources, security and the curse of religion I doubt the abuse of peoples human rights is going to diminish or disappear any time soon.

  2. How come we use the term “Middle East Peace” to represent the goal of terminating Israeli apartheid? We never called the ending of apartheid in South Africa “South Africa Peace”?

    Maybe if we stopped using that absurd euphemism for the total subjugation and control of the Palestinians and their land, substituting the “A” word, little shaming might help things along.

  3. To sit here and to put a morality measuring stick up against Erdogan and Netanyahu goes to show a person to just how much war can aggravate your mind. Now, I’m not accusing you Professor Cole of wasting your time, no quite the opposite. We Americans should critique these fellow allies, and we Americans should quit thinking we are so darn exceptional that anything goes.

    Hanging out with such characters as Erdogan and Netanyahu only goes to show you to how very much we have slide down the slippery slope of international diplomacy, as to accept such alliances. This ignorance of human rights and all that is decent, is a direct result of us wanting so much that we blindly engage in an effort to invade and occupy 7 nation’s in 5 years. A mindset like that will lead a nation down many a dark rabbit hole.

    We Americans need to encourage our government to quite negotiating with a gun. The U.S. with it’s many great institutions of higher learning teaches world diplomacy, so why can’t we use it (Madam Albright).

  4. Excellent analysis, thanks.
    Also consider that the Turks are trying to protect the national integrity from international forces that may be using the Kurds to destabilize Turkey.

    • You’re nibbling around a good point.

      Whatever else might be said about Erdogan and his megalomania, Turkey has to play an awfully delicate game because of its geopolitical circumstances, and Erdogan has been playing his hand rather well.

      Of course, the same could be said of Israel and Netanyahu.

      The difference is that Turkey will have to continue its balancing act while Israel’s problems are largely self-inflicted. Not to say the threats against it aren’t real, but the last 50 years could’ve been spent a lot more wisely than they were. And there’s no real sign they intend to change their pattern of behavior.

  5. Turkey’s military attacks have been against Kurds in general, not just the PKK. In fact Erdogan seems to use the PKK as an exuse for destroying Kurdish cities and imprisoning Kurdish civilians and politicians.

    • Not to say you’re wrong, but as of a couple years ago the above summary was accurate.

      If there has been a turn toward a targeted repression of Kurds in general, extending beyond a wide-ranging political, academic and administrative purge, I’d like to learn more.

      • “Observers believe these initiatives [like the destruction of Sur] aim to kill two birds with one stone: a highly valuable area is redeveloped, boosting local revenues and property values and lining developers’ pockets; and an opponent is literally marginalised, moved to housing on the urban periphery. In the case of Okmeydani, it’s Alevis, Kurds, and leftists. Next up is Sur and its Kurdish residents, along with a smattering of Assyrians, Yazidis and Armenians.”

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