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Shooting the fiddler on the roof

HDN | 6/30/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Whether the “invisible hand” that caused technical problems and kept the Mavi Marmara docked on the Golden Horn belongs to a body in Ankara or in Pennsylvania, it must be shaken with heartfelt praise.

Whether the “invisible hand” that caused technical problems and kept the Mavi Marmara docked on the Golden Horn belongs to a body in Ankara or in Pennsylvania, it must be shaken with heartfelt praise. Not to have another Turkish cruise to the shores of Gaza was the right decision for the organizers of last year’s Freedom Flotilla.

There are other signs that Mssrs. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu may be slowly retreating from their pre-election rhetoric which even included a deep regret that Turkey recognized Israel in 1948. That, however, will be a tactical retreat based on fears of crossing an invisible red line. Neither Mr. Erdoğan nor Mr. Davutoğlu will delete their ideological genes overnight, nor their dedication to the dream of praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the “Palestinian capital Jerusalem.”

All the same, they must be encouraged to understand that international politics is not about sentiments or dreams, but largely about interests. They must be encouraged to calculate, for instance, how much the average Palestinian in Gaza may have benefited from the 59 percent decline in Israeli tourist arrivals in Turkey in the first five months of 2011.

The longer-term risk to peaceful relations between Turkey and Israel is not about whether the Mavi Marmara sets sail for Gaza or remains anchored in Turkish waters. The risk is not about whether Israel should apologize or instead reiterate regret for last year’s deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara. It is not about low chairs or reparations for the Turkish victims either. The risk is about the systematic injection of Islamist sentiments about Israel into the minds of younger, ordinary Turks, especially in the past two and a half years.

In 2009 – before the Mavi Marmara incident – a basketball game between Türk Telekom and Bnei Hasharon was suspended before it even started. During the warm-ups Turkish fans threw objects at the visiting team’s players and shouted “Death to the Jews,” while waving Palestinian flags.

In 2010, a women’s volleyball game in Ankara between Israeli and Serbian national teams had to be played without spectators to prevent a kind of “Turkish Munich.”

In April, a group of Israeli cyclists was banned from the 2011 Tour of Isparta after the Syrian and Iraqi teams threatened to withdraw from the competition.

At the end of May, a prominent Israeli theater company, Cameri, was forced to cancel a performance in Antalya because protestors planned to disrupt the play.

In early June, an Istanbul concert by an award-winning Israeli musician, Yuval Ron, was cancelled due to threats from the “humanitarian aid organization” which spearheaded last year’s flotilla.

And most recently, Israeli jazz musician Itamar Erez and his ensemble were forced to cancel a weekend show in Istanbul due to threats from pro-Islamic protesters.

None of that was a coincidence.

In January, Polat Alemdar, the Turkish James Bond-plus-Rambo-plus-every other hero character, returned to theaters with his “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine.” It debuted, coincidentally, on the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the film, Alemdar emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the Israeli commander who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara (in one particularly heart-wrenching scene, an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel, and he replies: “I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine!”).

Box office figures show that since its debut on Jan. 28, over 2 million Turks watched “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine,” making it the year’s third most popular film and generating over $10 million in revenues. The figures exclude private screening and DVD sales.

Can anyone guess how unlikely (or likely) it is that one of the young viewers of the film, applauding Alemdar and cursing the “blood-thirsty Israelis,” will become Turkey’s prime minister in 20 or so years? How unlikely is it that someone from the film’s younger fans today will one day occupy the seat Mr. Davutoğlu today occupies?

How soon until a Turkish theater spectator draws out a pistol and shoots the “fiddler on the roof?”

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