‘Black Monday’ in Gaza unites Turkey’s government and opposition

‘Black Monday’ in Gaza unites Turkey’s government and opposition


Israeli soldiers’ attack on Palestinian protesters, which killed at least 61 in Gaza on May 14, has caused widespread anger and grief in Turkey, like many parts of the world. Thousands of people took to the streets on the same day in different parts of the country, while the government declared three days of national mourning.

Government and opposition parties were united in condemning Israel for the attack and strongly criticizing the U.S. for its backing of Israel and for the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. That move has been cited as the trigger of the recent tragedy.

After a cabinet meeting on the evening of May 14, the government recalled Turkey’s ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Washington back “for consultations.” Soon after, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu asked the government to withdraw them completely, while the Israeli ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told he should leave the country “for a while” under current circumstances.

Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Israel were severed and downgraded after the Mavi Marmara tragedy in which nine Turkish citizens trying to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza were killed by Israeli commandos. Following a formal Israeli apology and compensation through diplomatic mediation, ties were put back on track in June 2016.

However, relations started to go south again after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital. Turkey took a leading position in moving the international community for a U.N. vote in which the U.S. decision was rejected by 128 countries against nine in favor last December. Meanwhile, Israel’s military operations in Syria due to the threatening Iranian presence close to its borders have also been a matter of concern for Ankara recently, as has been the U.S. decision to pullout from the nuclear deal with Iran, agitated by Israeli discomfort.

President Tayyip Erdoğan said during his trip to the U.K. that Israel is trying to drag the entire Middle East into a war. A declaration by the Turkish Parliament after a special session on May 15 said the U.S. shared responsibility for Israeli oppression.

Erdoğan has called for a massive demonstration at Istanbul’s Yenikapı to condemn Israel on May 18, the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Both Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu have described the Gaza tragedy as “Black Monday.” Yıldırım called on Muslim countries to review their relations with Israel, in an indirect address to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He also called on all citizens to join the Yenikapı rally.

But it seems the opposition parties have their own plans about how to stand for the rights of the Palestinian people, concerned that Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) could turn people’s natural reaction into a propaganda effort ahead of snap elections on June 24. The Turkish people are indeed really upset about the Gaza situation, which has become the talk of the town across the country, overshadowing the snap elections and growing economic struggles.

It certainly seems that the “Trump factor” in the Middle East is likely to go down in history, but hardly in a good way.