The presence of Turkey during Israel’s pre-election period is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.” These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election.

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.





The presence of Turkey during Israel’s pre-election period

Turkey and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have come up in a variety of ways during the current election campaign in Israel.

Immediately following the announcement of the forthcoming September 17th elections, and among rumors that there was scope for post-election co-operation between Netanyahu and Gantz, the press leaked information about Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to legislate regulations that would arm his attorneys with arguments to ultimately delay the progress of the investigation against him, the leader of the “Yesh Atid” party and the “Blue and White” party partners, Yair Lapid, decided to organize a political rally in downtown Tel Aviv on the night of May 25, 2019. The moto of the rally was “Together Let’s Build a Wall to Safreguard Democracy” and the poster contained the following phrase: “We will not let Netanyahu lure Israel into Turkish-type legislation that will protect the country’s leader with legal immunity. “

The organizers of the rally made sure to supply thousands of people with red Ottoman fezes, referring directly to the status of a ‘subservient subject’ who dares not object to the Sultanate. It is worth noting, however, that the red fez still has a special symbolism associated with the Jewish presence in Palestine during the Ottoman domination: During those years, and when the Jewish festival of Purim was celebrated (a celebration that in its public expressions look like Christian Halloween), the ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem, instead of wearing the black hat of their formal attire, wore a red fez in order to ridicule the restrictions imposed by the local Ottoman authorities on the Jewish element of the city. The custom of the ‘red fez’ during the Purim in Jerusalem is still observed in the neighborhoods of the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Yair Lapid’s rhetoric acerbically criticized the way in which the Turkish President ruled his country and made clear analogies to the way Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to avoid criminal punishment by using legalistic methods by acting legislation, on the eve of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The widespread criticism of President Erdogan’s Turkish regime and his constitutional superpowers was accompanied by repeated cries of protesters “No, no, no. We will not let you turn us into some kind of Turkey. ”

Similar direct references to the Turkish political system and President Erdogan have been heard repeatedly, and throughout the election period, by leaders of the “Labor Party”, the leftist “Meretz” and the head of the “Joint Arab List”, Ayman Odhe, leader of the moderate leftist Arab party Hadash. It is worth noting here that similar anti-Turkish statements were not heard from the other three Arab parties: the pro-Islamist Ra’am and Ta’al parties and the nationalist Balad party.

Keeping equal distances

At the same time, both from Netanyahu and his right-wing government partners, there have been critical references to Turkey, but for different reasons. The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the Turkish presence near the coast of the Republic of Cyprus – a move that, at least formally, exceeded the competences of an interim service government with limited powers in view of the conduct of the September 17 election process.

On the other hand, recently, Minister of Foreign Affairs and close associate of Mr. Netanyahu Yisrael Katz made two interesting statements about Turkey that need attention. On one hand, in a statement to local media, he expressed his concern about the increasing activity of Turkish religious NGOs and Vakuf donors, ‘religious education programs’ and renovations of historic Ottoman-era buildings. It even announced an institutional / legislative framework that would limit the Turkish presence in the city’s Arab districts. On the other hand, and during the same period, the Minister himself, at a meeting of the regular parliamentary committee responsible for foreign affairs and defense, stressed that economic relations between Israel and Turkey should be strengthened, noting that “although for there to be political differences between the two countries, this does not mean that their economic ties should be damaged. ” This statement is true, as long as one observes the success of Turkish-made cheap electrical appliances on the average Israeli household. It should also be noted that the tourist flow from Israel to Turkey has increased over the last two years. Indeed, Israeli citizens of Jewish descent are avoiding visiting Turkey anymore. On the contrary, the trend is inversely proportional concerning Israeli citizens of Arab origin.

The thin boundaries of Israeli anti-Turkish rhetoric
The general trend of Israeli public opinion has been deeply anti-Turkish in the last decade and this is due to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli statements from Erdogan’s government from time to time. On the other hand, however, Israeli circles do not seem to realize that President Erdogan is expressing the actual sentiments of Turkish public opinion towards Israel and the Jewish presence in the Palestinian Arab / Muslim birthplace – as Turkish society perceives it, bound by religious sentiment. In other words, a significant portion of Israeli analysts are of the opinion that, when the ‘Erdogan era’ somehow passes, then Israeli-Turkish relations will return to their erstwhile good levels.

Until we have time to give the right answers to this interesting question, potshots fired by Israeli politicians against the monolithic attitude of the Turkish political system and President Erdogan personally should not lead the Greek and Cypriot sides to the conclusion that Israeli opposition party leaders are deeply aware of the Cyprus conflict or the Greek-Turkish regional rivalry. Reality clearly shows that criticism against Turkey is primarily due to Israeli political differences and tense ideological polarization.

However, Israel’s general dissatisfaction with Turkish regional policy in general, and its sympathy with the Greek regional factor, has created in the last decade a fertile ground for further enlightenment of Israeli public opinion and its party leaderships on multilateralism, Greek-Turkish differences and – for the most part – unknown in Israel daily manifestations of the unresolved Cyprus issue.