The strained diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel suffered another blow over the weekend, as both nations engaged in a verbal battle to harp on issues that have plagued the allies-turned-rivals for a considerable time, even taking personal jabs at heads of both states.
Social media was ablaze as oblique criticism on conflict management and war crimes in Israel and Turkey, devolved into direct attacks traded between high ranking officials of both countries. While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought up the Kurdish conflict, Ankara lashed out at Israel and its army over the unlawful occupation of Palestinian land and treatment of Palestinians—as spectators gaped at and criticised the ease with which each state turned a blind eye to its own violation of human rights.
Here’s what happened
The latest round in the online war of words was ignited by Turkey on Saturday when president Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a snide remark, asking his countrymen, “Do not kick the enemy you have brought down to the ground. You are not a Jew in Israel.” Earlier this year, Israel had amended the constitution to define itself as a nation-state of the Jewish people with a controversial law.
“You are the voice of the oppressor, you are waging state terrorism,” Erdogan said of Netanyahu in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday. “You are kicking women and children as your police drag them,” he said, further condemning Israel as an apartheid state, for resorting to “thuggery, violence and state terror” during the Palestinians’ Great March of Return.
Netanyahu was quick to respond to this jibe, asking Turkey to refrain from preaching to Israel when Erdogan himself is culpable of largescale massacre against the Kurds.
In a tweet late Saturday, he referred to his Turkish counterpart as “the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey.” The altercation quickly escalated as Netanyahu, at a conference with Christian soldiers, further billed the Turkish president as “an anti-Semitic dictator” who is “obsessed with Israel.”
Following this exchange, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu ratcheted things up by Netanyahu “a cold-blooded killer of modern times” in a tweet on Sunday. In it, he held the embattled Prime Minister “responsible for massacres of thousands of innocent Palestinians.”
Erdogan’s spokesperson and chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin also echoed this line of thought, arguing that Netanyahu should not use the Kurds as a political chip, as that would neither help him overcome his domestic and international troubles nor with his approval ratings. He also urged the Israeli leader to “end the lawless occupation of Palestinian lands and the brutal oppression of Palestinian people” instead of “begging President Erdogan not to speak out the truth”.
How did they get here
Turkey’s barbed attack comes just days after Erdogan claimed that Palestinians were undergoing “pressures, violence and intimidation policies no less grave than the oppression done to the Jews during the second world war”, also known as the Holocaust.
Ever since May, the relations between the two nations have deteriorated drastically over Israel’s contemptible attack on protestors along the separation fence near the Gaza Strip. Israel has been slapped with several charges of violation of international law over the aggravating Syrian crisis with several UN peace resolutions to end the war.
Following the mounting global outrage, Ankara had even evicted the Israeli ambassador from Turkey this summer. In July, Erdogan took to vocal castigation of the Israeli government, calling it “the world’s most fascist and racist state” in the world.
And yet, his efforts to cast himself in the image of a champion on Palestinian rights directly contradicts his role in the ongoing Kurdish conflict and oppressive laws that he helps put in place to award inordinate to the Turkish military. Human rights groups around the world have observed and chastised Erdogan for the extra-judicial crimes committed against Kurdish people in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, the Turkish leader was able to successfully turn up the pressure on Saudi Arabia to face the consequences of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and for the US to sit up and take serious note of it. Now Erdogan accuses Netanyahu of state terror when he is guilty of crimes of a similar nature, hoping to get away with the gross dereliction in his own backyard.
It is against this background that his pro-Palestinian remarks ought to be interpreted – one for the optics and reeking of hipocrisy – so that he can posit himself a progressive global leader concerned about human rights.
Israel’s political troubles and Syria
As for Israel, after the recent withdrawal of US troops from the 7 year-long Syrian war, the situation at the border and in Gaza is expected to cool off. But with increasing Iranian influence in Syria, Israel has more to lose than Turkey and may, in fact, even be required to join forces against a larger enemy. Currently, Iran’s proxies are keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.
The latest barrage of insults and broadsides against Netanyahu is nothing new although it comes at a crucial time for his prime ministership, which hangs precariously amidst grave corruption charges including election tampering and bribery.
Netanyahu’s struggles to maintain power at the increased last month, following the signing of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement with the Hamas terror . Israel’s narrow-coalition leaders on Monday reportedly voted to dissolve the Knesset (national legislature), and go to early elections on April 9.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius