The front page headline in the March 27 issue of Salom Gazetesi, the weekly newspaper of the Istanbul Jewish community, reads, “Apology brings friendship and stability.”
By all accounts, President Barack Obama is credited with brokering the reconciliation between Israel and Turkey on March 22. At the end of the president’s trip to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan to formally apologize for Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla Mavi Marmara in 2010, which left nine dead in an unsuccessful attempt by the Turkish ship to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey and Israel, former allies with strong military, trade, and tourism ties, broke off diplomatic relations. In spite of back-channel efforts, both countries were at a stalemate until late last month.
According to a statement put out by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu “expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability.” In addition, the prime minister noted that Israel had significantly lifted restrictions on goods into the Palestinian territories, and he expressed his commitment to partnering with Erdogan “to advance peace and stability in the region.”
Erdogan, who has demanded an apology since the incident, has frequently criticized Israeli policies. He recently incited ire at a United Nations conference in Vienna by comparing Zionism to fascism, later saying “his remarks were misunderstood.” Erdogan accepted Netanyahu’s apology and agreed to restore the Turkish ambassador’s post to Tel Aviv and cancel legal proceedings against IDF soldiers. At press time, an immediate increase in Israel-Turkey travel was reported in Israeli media.
What sort of response does the local community have to the reconciliation? Opinions were sought from scholars, business people, political scientists, and Jews of Sephardic heritage, Israelis, Americans, and Turkish Jews living in Turkey. JTNews spoke with Resat Kasaba, director of the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies; Joel Migdal, UW professor of international studies; Yoav Duman, UW Schusterman Israel Studies Fellow; Michael Koplow, program director at the Israel Institute and blogger at OttomansAndZionists.com; Isaac Azose, hazzan emeritus at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth; a local Israeli-American who wished to remain anonymous; and publisher Rifat Bali, from the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center in Istanbul.
The four questions:
Was the apology and resuming of diplomatic relations in the works? Why?
Resat Kasaba: “Both Turkey and Israel are concerned about Syria…the new coalition [in Israel] excluded the party opposed to an apology. With that out of the way, [it was] easier to do.”
Joel Migdal: “The rapprochement was definitely in the works. Several other factors pushed events forward. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s former foreign minister, had been the biggest opponent to an apology and compensation. His absence was important. So too was President Obama’s visit.”
Isaac Azose: “[President Obama] somehow convinced Bibi that it was in Israel’s interest to make the apology.”
Rifat Bali: “The Israeli government was divided in whether or not to apologize.”
In addition to U.S. pressure, other factors included Turkey’s quest for regional dominance, internal politics and domestic energy demands.
Michael Koplow: “The timing here [for reconciliation] is also related to [Turkey’s] successful talks with PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party] leader Abdullah Öcalan.”
Yoav Duman: “Turkey is trying to gain dominance in the Middle East.”
Resat Kasaba: “The Turkish government was keen on playing a big role addressing regional issues.”
Michael Koplow: “In my view, Turkey changed its mind on reconciling. Making up with Turkey means that at least Israel is not entirely alone in the region. Nobody should expect Israel and Turkey to go back to where they once were.”
Do you think Israelis will vacation in Turkey again?
Anonymous Israeli-American: “Turkey is beautiful…and [there are] great deals from Israel. Israelis love to travel: When there is a good deal, they go.”
Joel Migdal predicts “an upswing in tourism.”
Yoav Duman: “There is a financial/economic incentive, and Turkey [offers] cheap vacations.”
Resat Kasaba: “People [in Turkey] are expecting a busy season.”
Isaac Azose: “We may see an ‘uptick’ in tourism from Israel, but not to the extent it had been for years.”
Will there be a lessening of anti-Semitism in Turkey, in light of the comments by Erdogan?
Rifat Bali: “Anti-Semitism in Turkey is not a result of the Mavi Marmara crisis but has much deeper cultural roots.”
Joel Migdal: “Turkey is going through a nationalist phase now, and anti-Semitism is part of that.”