Tag Archives: Peres

Yom Kippur, Israel and Turkey

By Leigh Nusbaum

There is a saying in my High Holy Day siddur, the Gates of Repentance, that says, “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”

This sentence always unnerves me when I hear it. I feel as though I have not received that clean slate that I am supposed to possess upon breaking my fast, that my name’s inscription in the Book of Life is still in question the moment after the Ni’lah service is over.

My own personal fears aside, I do wonder what went through the minds of Israel’s political leaders this Yom Kippur if they heard this line as well, particularly when it comes to the issue of Turkey.

For someone who has visited Israel three times in the last five years and has spent the past summer living and working in Istanbul, I find the breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel both distressing and disturbing. Eyal Peretz, the head of the Arkadas (Turkish for friend) Association, an Israel-Turkish cultural center in Israel, puts it best, “I’ve seen how a warm relationship has been erased in one fell swoop. It’s very painful, very frustrating.”

The expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Turkey is the most recent chapter in a disappointing saga that has been several years in the making. In 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a harsh public criticism of Operation Cast Lead, a three-week invasion of the Gaza Strip, at the World Economic Forum, saying to President Shimon Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”

A year later was Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s “controversial behavior” towards the Turkish ambassador to Israel in 2010, when he stated to Israeli television cameras, “The important thing is that people see that he’s low and we’re high and that there is no flag here.” Ayalon apologized after.

Most notably, later that year, six ships, including the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, attempted to run the Israeli blockade in order to deliver humanitarian supplies to residents of the Gaza Strip. In response, Israeli marines boarded the ship and in the ensuing fight, nine activists were killed—eight Turkish, and one American of Turkish descent. Turkey demanded an apology; Israel refused.

The breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel, relations that have existed since 1949, will not help either country in the long run. Though Erdogan has in many ways become a hero for the Arab Street and a well-liked leader within his borders, his inflamed statements will hurt Turkey’s EU accession talks, particularly since Israel has increased ties with Cyprus, a country whose northern half is occupied by Turkey and is set to inherit the EU’s rotating presidency in 2012. Turkey and Cyprus have their own share of problems, given that Turkey occupies Cyprus’s northern half. As long as Turkey attacks Israel on the global stage, Israel and Cyprus, will likely grow closer due to their mutual respective rows with Turkey, and likely impede Turkey’s EU aspirations. If relations were to improve between Ankara and Jerusalem, however, Israel could have a chance at helping mediate and eliminate the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus, since Israel and Cyrpus have had strong bilateral relations since the 1990s. Solving the conflict between Turkey and Cyprus would clear one of Turkey’s major roadblocks to EU accession.

Still, Turkey is not alone in this problem. Israel’s continued stubbornness to resolve their relations with Ankara holds potent risks as well. Israel has damaged a relationship with one of the largest Muslim majority countries in the world, a country that at one point not only had decent relations with Israel, but countries like Syria, Lebanon and Iran. While Netanyahu has stated that he does not want Ankara to mediate any future negotiations between Israel and Syria, repairing the Turkish-Israeli relationship makes Turkey uniquely suited to mediate between Syria and Israel more than the United States. Though Israel has no influence on Syria domestically or internationally, Turkey does. Even if Assad is removed from power, Turkey, who like Israel shares a border with Syria, will still have influence on the Arab Republic, especially if the Sunni majority takes over Damascus. Additionally, Turkey would be ideal in relieving the tensions between Israel and Lebanon and even Israel and Iran.

I am not advocating who is right or who is wrong—I am just encouraging both sides to talk. Now is not the time of brinkmanship be it an increased Turkish naval presence in international waters or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatening to openly negotiate with the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK (The PKK is recognized by the United States as a foreign terror organization). Openly trying to destabilize the other country not only decreases respect for Turkey and Israel on the international stage, but it is also a waste of time and money for both. Talking and airing out grievances between one another leads to making peace. Making peace will erase the blemish on an otherwise successful relationship that has lasted over sixty years.

For Israel, Tough Choices on Egypt

By Steven Philp

On Saturday Israeli President Shimon Peres offered a defense of beleaguered Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, on the grounds that his rule has been characterized by three decades of stability between their respective nations. According to Haaretz, Israeli officials are concerned that if Mubarak is forced to step down the 1979 peace deal between their respective nations could be compromised. Peres seemed particularly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that their participation in the opposition movement casts doubt over continuing peace with Israel. Addressing members of the European Parliament, Peres lauded Mubarak for maintaining accord with Israel, stating, “His contribution to peace, as far as I’m concerned, will never be forgotten.”

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei attempted to assuage these fears in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, stating that the peace established by the Camp David Accords – signed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – is “rock solid,” even as the desire to see the emergence of a Palestinian state is vocalized by anti-government protestors. Yet these wishes, he assured “have nothing to do with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel… which has been concluded.” It is his assumption that his nation will continue to respect the agreement. According to Haaretz, the Muslim Brotherhood – of which Peres expressed concern – has recently alluded to a tacit acceptance of the Camp David Accords, a possible reversal from their long-held opposition to peace with Israel.

Perhaps Peres’ fears will not be met. Yet – looking to his speech for members of the European Parliament – we are left to wonder if the maintenance of the Camp David Accords is reason enough for Israelis, or the wider Jewish community, to throw our hat in with Hosni Mubarak. Are we not similarly called by our heritage to oppose the tyranny of his authoritarian rule, which extends uncontested from his appointment to presidency on October 14, 1981 to the first demonstrations several weeks ago? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the Jewish hope for democracy in a speech made before the Knesset last Wednesday, saying, “All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt. An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger.”

We walk a dangerous line when the security of Israel takes primacy over the Jewish value of human dignity. It is understandable that Israeli officials will support foreign leaders who honor stability in that region and peace with the Jewish state. Yet at what cost do we continue our allegiance? By speaking on behalf of Mubarak, Peres aligns his administration with an authoritarian leader who has stifled the voice of his people for three decades. Even as Netanyahu champions democracy, a resistance to the transition of power in Egypt belies this hope. For Jews living in the Diaspora, we can be torn between those politicians that support Israel and those who more accurately represent our ethical framework. It is troublesome when our identification with the Jewish community is more contingent on the former than the latter. In a perfect world they are not exclusive of one another. But as illustrated above, at times these issues will come in to conflict. The question is then to which Jewish value do we ascribe: allegiance to Israel, or human dignity? And does it matter if the dignity in question belongs to those outside the Jewish community?