Turkey, Israel Try to Repair Damaged Ties

JERUSALEM (Jerusalem Post)–Turkey and Israel seemed to signal a rapprochement Tuesday after a month of souring relations over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

"We are now looking towards the future," Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Tuesday. "Turkey is not targeting Israel and the Israeli people."

"The relations between the two countries are important to us and we want to protect them," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in response to Cicek’s commen’s.

Those relations seemed to be on a downward spiral in the wake of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s accusation that Israel had committed "inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction" during the 22-day January action against Hamas infrastructure in Gaza.

"Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents," Erdogan promised in one of a series of angry excoriations of Israel during the fighting.

He told Turkey’s parliament on January 13 that "media outlets supported by Jews" were failing to reveal that Israel was intentionally targeting schools, mosques and hospitals in Gaza.

Senior Israeli officials said this past week they were surprised by the unusually strident response from a close ally in a battle against an organization committed to Israel’s destruction. They told The Jerusalem Post in recent days that Israel was reconsidering Turkey’s role as a mediator in the region and the close Israeli-Turkish defense ties.

Now senior officials in both countries seem to be working to patch things up.

"We give special importance to our bilateral ties with Israel and we want to preserve ties with that country," Cicek said.

"We will still have close economic and military relations with Turkey, even with Erdogan’s Justice and Development party," a senior Israeli diplomatic official told the Post on Tuesday. "But there won’t be any communication with Erdogan himself. He went too far, and we simply can’t trust him again. He hasn’t even bothered to apologize."

The Turkish prime minister’s rhetorical attacks on Israel were accompanied by mass demonstrations against Israel and a spate of anti-Semitic incidents against Jewish property in the country that raised safety concerns for the five-century-old community.

There are 23,000 Jews in the predominantly Muslim country of more than 70 million.

On Monday, a leading American Jewish group told the Post that US Jews might consider supporting Armenian efforts to win US recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The Israeli lobby has traditionally been an ardent support of Turkey’s genocide denial, lobbying various administrations and congresses to stay silent on the crime against humanity.

Perhaps in response to this threat, Erdogan himself said Sunday that Turkey had no history of anti-Semitism, calling the hatred of Jews a "crime against humanity."

Then, on Tuesday, he insisted that criticism of Israel’s offensive in Gaza should not be regarded as anti-Semitism, and seemed eager to reassure Turkey’s Jewish citizens that they are safe.

"There has been no anti-Semitism in the history of this country," Erdogan told ruling party lawmakers. "As a minority, they’re our citizens. Both their security and the right to observe their faith are under our guarantee."

In a statement, the Jewish community welcomed remarks by Erdogan and other Turkish officials that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated, and noted a decrease since the January 18 Gaza cease-fire of what it called "anti-Semitic manifestations" during protests against Israel.

"Numerous sensible and impartial journalists and intellectuals have accentuated that this is not a war of religions," said Musevi Cemaati, which means Jewish Community in Turkish.

But the group, which has links to Turkey’s rabbis, said "at present there are unfortunately several TV programs with messages embedded with harshly anti-Semitic rhetoric."

The group appeared to be referring to some current affairs programs and other news shows in which commen’s deemed to be anti-Jewish were made.

It said it was in contact with Cabinet ministers and members of parliament, and was cooperating closely with police as it worked to ensure "community premises and members are protected."

Haberturk television reported that Mustafa Cagirici, the chief Islamic cleric in Istanbul, instructed clerics to avoid statemen’s in weekly sermons on Friday that would disturb the Jewish community.

In November 2003, Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaida detonated bombs outside two synagogues in Istanbul, killing and injuring dozens. Since then, police have often been posted at Jewish centers.

Jewish community leaders say there have been several hundred anti-Semitic writings in Turkish media, and that prosecutors have failed to take legal action. Turkey bans acts that incite racial or religious hatred.

Turkey acted as a mediator last year in peace efforts between Israel and Syria, and Erdogan said his country could still play such a role despite his criticism of Israel.

"Telling the truth is not an obstacle to being a mediator between two countries," Erdogan said.

Nobody wants to see Turkish-Israeli relations torn asunder, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, referring to the apparent cooling of tempers between the two countries.

"But we can’t be silent in the face of the incitement in recent weeks. We can’t become willing partners of scapegoating us," he said.

Attacking Israel is a "cheap shot," he added.

"It’s important to see a healing in relations, but it has to start with the prime minister [Erdogan] and be reflected internally and externally in Turkey," he noted.

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