An Open Letter to Turkey and Israel

 

When I got on the plane last night, the flight attendant greeted me in Turkish. It had been a week since I’d heard anyone speak Turkish. The moment she said hello to me, I had a warm feeling. It wasn’t just the familiar sound of Turkish; it was her sweetness, which is so typical of Turkey. They’d given me a center row seat; I’d asked for a window seat. I asked if she could help, and she said yes, of course, she’d make sure I was happy. It was the way she said it–she was so typically Turkish in her obvious desire to make sure a guest was happy.

When the plane landed, I felt, “Oh, good, I’m home.” Everyone knows that feeling.

I’m an American citizen, not a Turkish citizen. I’m certainly not an Israeli citizen. I don’t speak a word of Hebrew. My Turkish is primitive at best, and like everyone in Turkey, I’m frustrated constantly by the country even as I adore it. I’ve been an expatriate for so long that I don’t feel completely at home anywhere anymore. But I’ve been living here for a long time, and now my internal homing beacon points, generally, toward Istanbul. 

It’s unbearable to me that the formerly close relationship between Turkey and Israel has been injured so deeply. It makes no sense strategically, for Turkey or for Israel. And it makes no sense culturally. These countries have far more in common than they realize. They are both new nation-states–remember, the Turkish Republic is almost as young as the state of Israel, both products of the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century, and both deeply insecure on the world stage because of it. They are both multi-ethnic democracies. One has a Muslim minority; the other a Jewish minority; both are remarkably tolerant in a region not known for tolerance; both are secular states; both face similar security concerns in a dangerous region. Both are struggling to figure out how to reconcile the concept of a secularism with the piety of its citizens; both are countries with young, vibrant, populations. Both countries have universal conscription, and not one mother in either country is happy to pack her son off to the army. I’m not pointing this out because I’m corny and sentimental: It’s just a fact.

The Turks you’ve seen in the videos howling about their longing to be martyrs for the jihad? They are not the majority, you’ve just got to trust me. It’s a country of some 70 million people; any country this big will have its nuts. These nuts have a terrific media strategy, so they end up looking like the real face of Turkey. They’re not. Ordinary Turks don’t have a media strategy. They have jobs–oftentimes hard, demanding jobs–and families. 

I might add that both countries desperately need a mute button. On the plane last night I was going nuts: All I wanted was a bit of quiet after a long week, and the guys in the aisle behind me just wouldn’t shut up. It doesn’t matter whether they were Turkish or Israeli, when it comes to making noise, they’re interchangeable. They could have said everything they needed to say quietly, without disturbing everyone around them, but that concept just doesn’t compute–not in Turkey, not in Israel. The cultural similarities between Israelis and Turks vastly exceed the dissimilarities, in so many ways. 

I heard not one word of malevolence toward Turkey in Israel–just deep sadness and bewilderment. Many people I spoke to fondly remembered vacations in Istanbul and Antalya. 

I did hear something that makes me insane with frustration: A sentiment to the effect of, “What’s the point of trying to explain our point of view to the Turkish people? They hate us now.” 

They don’t. That’s an understandable siege mentality talking, but it’s not reality. There are certainly some people in Turkey who hate Israel. There is a much larger number of people who don’t know much about Israel and don’t think much about Israel, but who would be well-disposed to the country if they knew more about it.

This relationship just has to be repaired. If there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll try. Turks, if you have questions about Israel, ask me. Israelis, if you’ve got questions about Turkey, ask me. It doesn’t have to be this way; it’s a pointless tragedy that it is, and it breaks my heart. 

You’ll never manage to convince me that this is the way it must be. I know far too much about Turkey and about Israel to believe it.  

There are 20 comments.

  1. cdor Member

    “This relationship just has to be repaired. If there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll try.”

    I am being very, very serious Claire, when I wish you God’s grace with your efforts.

    • #1
    • March 20, 2011, at 4:37 AM PDT
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  2. Israel P. Inactive

    There may not be alot of nuts in Turkey, but a very small percentage of seventy million is still a large number. And they seem to have enough to control the government’s foreign policy.

    • #2
    • March 20, 2011, at 4:41 AM PDT
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  3. Jerry Carroll Inactive

    The adherents of a religion based on death-to-the-infidels can never be trusted no matter what superficial similarities they may share with others, including politeness and vivacity. One or two studies say only 10 percent of Islam can be considered martyrdom-loving jihadist. That means a mere seven million Turks are implacably opposed to your existence, Claire. I don’t see how even earnest niceness gets around that.

    • #3
    • March 20, 2011, at 6:14 AM PDT
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  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Your Grace: The adherents of a religion based on death-to-the-infidels can never be trusted no matter what superficial similarities they may share with others, including politeness and vivacity. One or two studies say only 10 percent of Islam can be considered martyrdom-loving jihadist. That means a mere seven million Turks are implacably opposed to your existence, Claire. I don’t see how even earnest niceness gets around that. · Mar 20 at 6:14am
    I’m not interested in the point of view of that ten percent (which I think is a high estimate in Turkey). I’m interested in the 90 percent–or higher–who find their point of view repulsive and terrifying.
    • #4
    • March 20, 2011, at 6:22 AM PDT
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  5. Johnny LaRue Inactive

    Great post – thank you. I know very little about Turkey and your post makes me want to learn more.

    I heartily endorse cdor in wishing you luck in your efforts to bring the peoples of Turkey and Israel together. We need such efforts and they can succeed.

    • #5
    • March 20, 2011, at 6:23 AM PDT
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  6. TeeJaw Inactive

    In the Spring of 2002 I flew to Antalya to join my former partner on his sailboat in Kemer Marina in Turkey. He and his wife were 5 years into an around the world cruise and I was joining them for a 2-month Mediterranean excursion with the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally out of Kemer. The Turkish Coast Guard was part of the rally. They were with us at every port except Lattakia, Syria and Jounieh (Beirut). In Haifa, Herzliya, and Ashkelon in Israel the Turkish Coast Guard boat tied up in the same marina (different pier) we did, with their 50 Caliber machine guns on deck (covered with a tarp). At the dinners the Israelis sponsored for us, the Turkish sailors joined us. They proudly wore their uniforms.

    Please see these photos I took of the Turkish Coast Guard boats keeping an eye on us, protecting us all the way (except in Syria and Lebanon where they could not go).

    Sadly, none of this could happen today. I’m glad I had the opportunity to observe the friendship between Israel and Turkey before everything changed, to the detriment of both countries, in my view.

    • #6
    • March 20, 2011, at 8:55 AM PDT
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  7. Douglas Inactive

    Living in cosmopolitan Istanbul, you’ll probably disagree with this, but I think secular Turkey, when all said and done, will be a relatively short blip in history. Ataturk’s dream can only be maintained by the army, and I don’t think even a military can long suppress a people’s religious longings. I don’t think the direction Turkey has taken in the past decade is an anomaly. I think it’s the future, and that doesn’t bode well for Israel. Looking at those now famous before-and-after photos of Alexandria’s beach (women in western garb in the 50’s, covered in burqas/hijabs in the present), I think Turkey is headed in the same direction. It may take awhile, but I think that before my lifetime is up, Turkey may well be more Ottoman than Ataturk.

    • #7
    • March 20, 2011, at 11:40 AM PDT
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  8. TeeJaw Inactive

    I can attest that in Antalya no one sleeps past 4:30 AM. That is when the first prayer is blast through the streets by loud speaker and it’s so loud and ominous that no one could possibly sleep through it. I’d don’t know if they get up and immediately go to their knees with head to the ground facing Mecca, but I know they get up.

    • #8
    • March 20, 2011, at 11:56 AM PDT
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    TeeJaw: I can attest that in Antalya no one sleeps past 4:30 AM. That is when the first prayer is blast through the streets by loud speaker and it’s so loud and ominous that no one could possibly sleep through it. I’d don’t know if they get up and immediately go to their knees with head to the ground facing Mecca, but I know they get up. · Mar 20 at 11:56am

    If you live near a mosque, the call to prayer is often loud (like I said, the Mediterranean doesn’t have a mute button). But I’ve never found it ominous.

    • #9
    • March 21, 2011, at 1:15 AM PDT
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  10. Sisyphus Member

    Claire: The same Pew poll that found 85% of Egyptians supporting the execution of apostates, a fine indication for Sharia, found 49% of Turks supporting. That is better support than Hitler’s Nazis in the 1933 election at 43.9%. Don’t tell me that they just say that because that’s what they learn at mosque, that’s where atrocities come from. Let me know when “modern” Turkey issues their first building permit to allow repair of a functioning church or synagogue. Is Israel taking the same stand against mosques?

    If loud were a significant cultural touchstone, the Turks, Israelis, Texans, and New Yorkers would form a federation. Ataturk is dead, the Turkish Army that stomped Islamism flat time and again is giving the AKP a pass. Sharia is gaining ground even in NATO.

    I ran across the story today of a young Christian girl murdered in Iraq when two Muslim men drove the base of a large crucifix through her mouth and out the back of her head. Not ominous? Many jews stayed put past the German elections of 1933 as well.

    • #10
    • March 21, 2011, at 1:44 AM PDT
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  11. Israel P. Inactive

    Claire, I often wonder if you are wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses or what.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/03/21/turkey%e2%80%99s-deputy-prime-minister-calls-for-airstrikes-on-israel/

    • #11
    • March 21, 2011, at 4:34 AM PDT
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  12. TeeJaw Inactive
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    TeeJaw: I can attest that in Antalya no one sleeps past 4:30 AM. That is when the first prayer is blast through the streets by loud speaker and it’s so loud and ominous that no one could possibly sleep through it. I’d don’t know if they get up and immediately go to their knees with head to the ground facing Mecca, but I know they get up. · Mar 20 at 11:56am
    If you live near a mosque, the call to prayer is often loud (like I said, the Mediterranean doesn’t have a mute button). But I’ve never found it ominous. · Mar 20 at 1:15pm

    If you’re not used to it I think that deep baritone AHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA that is very loud could strike a person of reasonable sensitivity as ominous indeed. Nothing in it sounds like a call to religious worship to Western ears.

    • #12
    • March 21, 2011, at 5:28 AM PDT
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  13. TeeJaw Inactive

    Actually, the Mediterranean does have a mute button. About 20 miles from the nearest shore. Except for the wind slapping the sails, that is.

    • #13
    • March 21, 2011, at 5:33 AM PDT
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  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Israel P.: Claire, I often wonder if you are wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses or what.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/03/21/turkey%e2%80%99s-deputy-prime-minister-calls-for-airstrikes-on-israel/ · Mar 21 at 4:34am

    An important enough question that I’ll answer it in a separate post … stay tuned.

    • #14
    • March 21, 2011, at 5:42 AM PDT
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  15. Waynester Inactive

    I’m currently reading the inestimable George Friedman’s “The Next 100 Years” and wondered as I read if Ms. Berlinski had read the book and if so what she thinks of his prediction that Turkey will likely become a world power due it’s strategic location (between Europe, the Middle East and Russia) and other factors (perhaps the main two are that is relatively stable and represents no threat to the US.)

    • #15
    • March 21, 2011, at 6:33 AM PDT
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  16. Robert Lux Inactive

    Are the differences that separate one people from another merely “cultural,” such as Claire would seem to imply? Is politics just a matter of opinions? If it is indeed just culture- and since the notion of culture is inescapably historically based, and since all cultures evolve- then this necessarily entails that there are no fundamental differences among human beings. We can then happily get on with progressing toward some sort of one-world state/cosmopolis.

    Without being mistaken for one who welcomes raw animosities/misuderstandings between Israel and Turkey (or between any peoples for that matter), I do find it a bit naive to think that, by golly, by virtue of cultural similarities peoples can live in perpetual comity. Funny, I recently dated a Czech girl for the past two years, and lived for a time in that country. It’s amazing to observe the similarities- regularly and strenuously denied only with some measure of severe cognitive dissonance- which utterly abound between them and neighboring Germans and Austrians (the latter two which I know quite well, having majored in German literature). One could multiply examples of the political/cultural dichotomy amongst peoples practically ad infinitum.

    • #16
    • March 21, 2011, at 9:43 AM PDT
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  17. R. Craigen Inactive

    There’s something in this that doesn’t ring true, Claire. You say you live in Istanbul. Do you connect with people in rural areas (I mean not just superficially)? I come from small town Canada, and I can testify that the mentality in rural areas is significantly different from those in other areas. People are more forthright, less apt to cotton to cosmo-speak and more apt to wear the soil of the nation. Watching the goings-on in Pakistan, Egypt and Iran and knowing folks from all three countries I’m struck by how modern, cosmopolitan and heterogeneous the major cities are. They are many things, many-faceted, but one thing they are not is reflective of the pulse of the nation. In areas likely to be frequented by westerners — even western expatriates, they are prone to reflect western values, at least on the surface.

    Now, you’ve been in Turkey long enough to get under the surface. But have you really gotten the pulse of the people? I pray that what you write is correct. But I suspect it is not. Having studied the Gulen movement I understand how easily Turkey can deceive.

    • #17
    • March 21, 2011, at 10:06 AM PDT
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  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    R. Craigen: T

    Now, you’ve been in Turkey long enough to get under the surface. But have you really gotten the pulse of the people? I pray that what you write is correct. But I suspect it is not. Having studied the Gulen movement I understand how easily Turkey can deceive. · Mar 20 at 10:06pm

    Oh, I know how easily it can deceive. But yes, I do think I know more “ordinary people” than most journalists here do. You don’t get a lot of cosmopolitan elites in martial-arts circles, you know?

    • #18
    • March 21, 2011, at 11:23 AM PDT
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  19. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Robert Lux:
    I need to write more about this, and I will. A relationship that was as close as this one can be close again–nations don’t have permanent friendships, but they have permanent interests, and those interests haven’t changed. Stay tuned for more.
    • #19
    • March 21, 2011, at 11:26 AM PDT
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