Well, no more Mr Smoothie Guy then. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has within the past few hours walked out of the World Economic Forum in disgust, because of having been denied the same amount of time as was given to his Israeli counterpart, President Shimon Peres, when addressing the assembled audience on the subject of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. Quoting Gilad Atzmon and Avi Shlaim, he walked away claiming that he will not be returning.
Erdoğan offers his own explanation in this press conference footage, as televised by Turkish news station TRT 2. Amongst other things he expressly denies any enmity towards “the Israeli people”, and also says “I am a Prime Minister, a leader, who has specifically stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity”.
The BBC’s initial report on the incident can be found here.
I am not a fan of Erdoğan’s, nor indeed of his Adalet ve Kalkınma (Justice and Development) Party. They are a movement of religious-political roots, and it is difficult to deny that they continue to carry at least some of that legacy, albeit by no means in the same way as openly theocratic groups do. What is more, his willingness to quote from Atzmon does raise questions, albeit that he is not necessarily likely to be aware of the man’s highly dubious political pedigree. Nevertheless it is a highly unusual spectacle to see a national leader who is prepared to break diplomatic precedent in such spectacular style. Erdoğan left to a partial standing ovation.
What this does show is just how damaging the Gaza conflict may prove to have been, to relations between Israel and other nations in the Middle East region. Turkey has historically stood aside from Arab-Israeli hostilities and maintained relatively good relations with Jerusalem. Erdoğan himself had been trying to foster talks between Israel and Syria, with a view to ending a conflict which has festered enen since before the former’s inception in 1948. Indeed, far from being a redoubt of stereotypical anti-Western religious fanatics, Turkey is also a nation with (fading) hopes of joining the EU, which would make it the first majority-Muslim member state. This, indeed, in spite of a number of backward and bigoted responses from prominent EU figures. It is also a NATO partner, and a regional superpower with more than half a million men under arms.
It is one thing to foment conflicts with nations whom one’s allies see as pariah states, such as Iran. It is quite another to offend one of your few friends in the Middle East. This argument may eventually be smoothed over, but it marks the beginning of a realignment. Israeli politicians should take note: one fit of pique on a platform speaks volumes. The days of carte blanche from “friends of Israel” are well and truly over.