Backstage at Turkey's Shotgun Wedding with Israel: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 14, 2016— There is every indication that Turkey and Israel are not far away from normalizing their troubled diplomatic relations.
Erdogan, the AKP and Antisemitism: Dr. Simon A. Waldman, ISGAP, June 1, 2016 — Turkey’s 15-20,000 Jewish community is on high alert.
Canadian’s Arrest Shows Why We Must Press Iran on Human Rights: Marina Nemat, Globe & Mail, June 10, 2016— Homa Hoodfar, a professor at Concordia University and a Canadian-Iranian, has been arrested in Iran.
Done Deal?: Reuel Marc Gerecht, Weekly Standard, May 23, 2016— All administrations are short-sighted.
Hamas Still Finds Harbor in Turkey: Jonathan Schanzer, Weekly Standard, June 8, 2016
Europe’s Turkey Dilemma: Migration vs. Democracy: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2016
Iran’s Anger Over Ontario Court Ruling Threatens Liberal Attempts to Mend Diplomatic Ties: Stewart Bell, National Post, June 14, 2016
Iran’s Chess Board: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2016
Gatestone Institute, June 14, 2016
There is every indication that Turkey and Israel are not far away from normalizing their troubled diplomatic relations. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for instance, the former allies are "one or two meetings" away from normalization. If, however, Ankara and Jerusalem finally shake hands after six years of cold war, it will be because Turkey feels increasingly isolated internationally, not because it feels any genuine friendship for the Jewish nation.
In all probability, the "peace" between Turkey and Israel will look like the definition of peace in Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary: "In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting" — despite the backdrop for peace looking incredibly (but mischievously) convenient. On May 29, a Jewish wedding ceremony was held in a historical synagogue in the northwestern province of Edirne for the first time in 41 years. A few months before that, in December, the Jewish year 5776 went down in history possibly as the first time in which a public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony was held in Muslim Turkey in a state-sponsored event. All that is nice — but can be misleading.
There are two major problems that will probably block a genuine normalization. One is Hamas, and the other is the seemingly irreversible anti-Semitism which most Turks devour. In a powerful article from this month, Jonathan Schanzer forcefully reminded the world that although Saleh Arouri, a senior Hamas military leader, was expelled from his safe base in Istanbul, "… many other senior Hamas officials remain there. And their ejection from Turkey appears to be at the heart of Israel's demands as rapprochement talks near completion."
Schanzer says that there are ten Hamas figures currently believed to be enjoying refuge in Turkey, and he names half a dozen or so Hamas militants there, including Mahmoud Attoun, who was found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of a 29-year-old Israeli. Also enjoying safe haven in Turkey are three members of the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades. Schanzer adds that, "There are a handful more that can be easily identified in the Arabic and Turkish press, and nearly all of them maintain profiles on Facebook and Twitter, where they regularly post updates on their lives in Turkey."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed more than once that Hamas is not a terrorist group but a legitimate political party. He has held innumerable meetings with senior Hamas officials including Khaled Mashaal, head of its political bureau. In addition, Erdogan came up with the idea that Zionism should be declared a "crime against humanity."
Anti-Semitism, as mentioned, is the other problem. Erdogan deliberately spread anti-Semitic sentiments to an already xenophobic society until he decided to go (relatively) silent when he recently realized that Turkey's cold war with Israel was not sustainable. This does not mean that his or Turkish society's views regarding Jews have changed. Earlier this year, for instance, one of Erdogan's chief advisors appeared in pro-government media to attack political rivals as "raising soldiers for the Jews." This sentiment is not confined to government big guns.
The first Jewish wedding at Edirne synagogue after 41 years was, no doubt, a merry event, both for the Turkish Jewish couple and politically, but it failed to mask the ugly side of the coin. Unlike a normal Turkish wedding (or, say, a Jewish wedding in the U.S.), unusually tight security measures were taken in the neighborhood around the synagogue, including the closure of roads leading to the synagogue and security searches of the wedding guests. The guests had to go through a metal detector at the door of the synagogue. Road closures and a metal detector for a wedding?!
There was more. Turks happily expressed their feelings in social media to "celebrate" the Jewish wedding. "One of my biggest dreams is to kill a Jew," wrote one Twitter user. "[Hitler] did not do it in vain," wrote another. The Hitler series went on with "He was a great man," "Where are you Hitler?" and "We are all Hitler." This is the backstage scene in the country where a Jewish couple happily married at a synagogue for the first time in 41 years — the same country supposedly to "normalize" its ties with Israel.
Dr. Simon A. Waldman
ISGAP, June 1, 2016
Turkey’s 15-20,000 Jewish community is on high alert. Just a few months ago Sky News broke a story that Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL, was planning attacks specifically against Turkey’s Jews. Inevitably, security was heightened, schools were closed and community events were postponed. The alert points to the precarious situation of Turkey’s declining Jewish population. It also begs the question of the position of Turkey’s domineering President Recip Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the party which he co-founded, led and still wields incontestable influence.
The position of the Jewish community since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923 has been hazardous at best. During the late 1920s and 1930s Jews were victim to the “citizen speak Turkish campaign”,[in] an effort on the part of the authorities to create national linguistic cohesion. Ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, including Jews, were harassed in the streets, at times assaulted, while being told to “speak Turkish” by authorities and fellow citizens alike. The campaign was a contributing factor to the decline of Ladino, the Judaic-Spanish vernacular spoken by Turkish Jews for centuries but now just a handful of people.
During the 1930s Nazi propaganda entered Turkish shores. In Thrace, a region in the European side of Turkey, many Jews faced violent attacks and antisemitic propaganda… During World War II, Jews along with other non-Muslim minorities were hit with the Capital Gains Tax (Varlik Vergisi). Jews were often forced to pay as much as 10 times the tax rate. Failure to pay meant being sent to a work camp. The policy virtually wiped away the wealth of many Jews, Turkifying (arguably Islamifying) the country’s economy… Many Jews chose to leave and rebuild their lives in the newly found state of Israel after 1948.
However, the above incidents took place under the People’s Republican Party, the secularists who currently sit in opposition to Erdogan and the AKP. What about incidents during the AKP’s period in office, since 2002 until present? In 2003, while the AKP was in power, Neve Shalom along with another synagogue (as well as the British Consulate and HSBC) were bombed by a Turkish faction of al-Qaeda. 57 people were killed, hundreds were injured. Neve Shalom was also the site of a 1986 gun attack by the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organisation which slaughtered 22 worshipers.
Erdogan’s personal antagonism towards Israel is well known. He famously walked out on a speech given by Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009, accusing that the then Israeli President “knows well how to kill” while his wife called Peres a “liar.” There was also the ill-fated Mavi Marmara incident when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish Gaza bound vessel, killing nine Turkish citizens. The response was more firebrand rhetoric on the part of Erdogan and the AKP in front of large anti-Israeli gatherings across Turkey’s cities. He mockingly repeated the Jewish commandment “thou shall not kill” to cheering crowds in condemnation of Israel’s actions. Meanwhile, Turkish television, increasingly beholden to the whims of the government, broadcasted the Valley of the Wolves which contained antisemitic motifs while viewers watched the hero’s quest to avenge the Turkish deaths.
Although one may stress the point that antipathy towards Israel is not the same as antisemitism, Erdogan straddles a fine line. Erdogan has openly stated that he does not approve of negative attitudes towards the Jews of Turkey who he considers citizens. However, this would appear in contradiction to his call for Turkey’s Jews to condemn Israel in the wake of the 2014 operations against Hamas. In other words, Erdogan linked Turkey’s Jews with Israel, putting the community on the firing line by a Turkish public who often make no distinction between Israel and Turkey’s Jewish population. Worryingly, in May 2014, Erdogan raised eyebrows after calling a demonstrator, during protests after a mining disaster, a “spawn of Israel”.
In understanding anti-Jewish attitudes among Erdogan and the AKP, its Islamic origins need to be stressed. Many founders of the AKP were from the Welfare Party, which derived from the Milli Gorus (National Outlook) movement which came into the fore during the 1970s. An important aspect of the Milli Gorus is a unique Turkish form of antisemitism that borrows elements of traditional antisemitic conspiracies. It blames the demise of the Islamic caliphate of the Ottoman Empire on the Donmes (followers of the “false” messiah Shabbtai Zvi during the seventeenth century) who they claim established the secular republic of Turkey at the expense of Islam… Meanwhile, international Zionism continues to exercise shadowy power and manipulate Turkish politics and the monetary system.
The movement saw power when Necmettin Erbakan of the Islamic Welfare Party become Prime Minister in 1996 and lasted until he was ousted in a military intervention. Erbakan reportedly commented that Jews are the cause of all mischief while his party disseminated material claiming all kinds of conspiracies linked to international Zionism. Erbakan has also been quoted as commenting that the Crusades were organized by Zionists and that the world is created by one center, namely “the racist, imperialist Zionism” and that the US dollar is Zionist money.
Today there are still plenty of examples of such discourse including publishing houses that produced Turkish translations of Mein Kampf and the proven forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which were best sellers in Turkey from 2005 onwards while the AKP was in its first term as well as other publications alleging Jewish conspiracies. This is why AKP deputies have fallen into conspiratorial antisemitic gibes. The then Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, for example, claimed that Jews were behind the Gezi Park Protests of 2013. Erdogan himself said that Jewish capital was behind the New York Times after the prestigious daily criticised his rule. One of Erdogan’s chief advisors was even so brazen as to attack government rivals for “raising soldiers for the Jews”.
Antisemitism has been and continues to be an immense problem in Turkey. Once home to over 100,000 Jews, it has reduced to a mere 15-20,000. And Jews continue to leave. Erdogan and the AKP have done little to reverse this phenomenon. If anything their comments, worldview and rhetoric have helped to fuel it.
Globe & Mail, June 10, 2016
Homa Hoodfar, a professor at Concordia University and a Canadian-Iranian, has been arrested in Iran. She was conducting research. Her passport and other documents were confiscated in March, shortly before she was supposed to return to Canada. She was interrogated and released on bail. Now, she’s in Evin prison.
My school friend, Shahnoosh Behzadi, was executed in Evin in 1981 and is buried in a mass grave. She was 15. I was 16 when I was arrested in 1982 and taken to Evin prison. I was taken into a room and tied to a bare wooden bed, lying down on my stomach. Two men stood over me. One of them took off my socks and my shoes and lashed the soles of my feet with a length of cable, which was as thick as a garden hose and made of heavy rubber. With every strike of the lash, it felt like my nervous system exploded. If the devil appeared, I would have sold my soul to get out of that room. They gave me documents to sign, and I signed everything. Later, one of my interrogators raped me after forcing me to “marry” him.
Today, Iran’s prisons are as brutal as in the 1980s. In 2003, Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist was killed under torture in Evin. However, recently, when dealing with dual nationals, Iranian officials are usually more careful with physical torture. Dual nationals are used as hostages to trade for favours with the West, so they are usually not visibly “damaged.” Iranian authorities have shown that they have no regard for human life and dignity, but they do care about money and power, so it’s to their advantage that hostages survive. The same is not true for Iranian prisoners who have no trading value; most are brutally tortured, physically and psychologically.
Since Hassan Rouhani became the Iranian President, various governments and politicians around the world have rejoiced that Iran now has a “moderate” leader. No doubt, Mr. Rouhani’s language is much milder than that of his predecessor, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who was very vocal in his hatred of the West. After him, Mr. Rouhani, who uses mild, diplomatic language, felt like an angel. But the number of executions has climbed under his watch. Writers, bloggers and journalists were still arrested and put in prison. None of the members of the Baha’i faith who were put behind bars only because of their beliefs were released and more were arrested. The laws of Iran, which value the testimony of a woman as half of a man’s, and that of a Christian or a Jew as half of a Muslim’s, remained the same. The West negotiated with Iran, and a nuclear deal was achieved. But the United States and other Western countries decided to overlook Iran’s terrible human rights record.
For a while during the reign of Mr. Rouhani, women received some superficial freedoms: the hijab laws relaxed a little, and women who wore makeup and tight clothing were not arrested as frequently by morality police. However, for the past few months, Iranian women have been under fire again. It looks like the government of Mr. Rouhani wants to make sure that Iranians understand that the nuclear deal doesn’t mean more freedoms. A few weeks ago, a few Iranian models, beautiful girls who had dared post their hijab-less photos on Facebook, were arrested and forced to confess to their “immorality.” They had to repent from their “sins.”
Homa Hoodfar is a new hostage of a horrific, brutal system that has been torturing, killing and raping for more than 35 years. We need to speak out not only about her but also about all the other prisoners and hostages of the regime. No, I’m not asking for the West to attack Iran. War doesn’t fix anything in the long run. However, let’s speak out and name and shame the torturers. Trade with Iran is lucrative. But let’s set parameters and stick to them when it comes to relations and trade, or the hostage taking, killing, torture and rape will continue bloodier than ever before, and we will become accomplices.
Reuel Marc Gerecht
Weekly Standard, May 23, 2016
All administrations are short-sighted. Even the brightest, most reflective people can develop acute tunnel vision when they join the paper-pushing, crisis-a-minute senior ranks of the National Security Council and the State Department. When the president becomes obsessed with one issue, as Barack Obama was with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he and his advisers are less likely to appreciate the possible unintended consequences of their actions.
Of course, with a president at odds with so much of American foreign policy since World War II, it is tricky separating unintended from desired consequences. Given how many bright people in Washington supported the nuclear agreement who aren't blind to Iran's nefarious behavior and don't want to handcuff Washington in the Middle East, though, it's possible the president, like so many others, failed to see how the agreement would circumscribe American action.
But it's certainly clear now that if the next president intends to restore American primacy abroad, or just return some capacity to coerce adversaries in the Middle East, he or she will have to be prepared to watch the Iranians walk away from the nuclear agreement. Downing the Islamic State is probably impossible so long as Washington is held hostage by the accord. As unpleasant as it may be to accept, there is now only one presidential candidate who could abandon Obama's defining foreign accomplishment, challenge the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions, and destroy the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Though President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are quick to deny it, the nuclear accord has already become a straitjacket on policy. Just look at the administration's dithering awkwardness in responding to Russian plans to sell the clerical regime advanced fighter/fighter-bomber aircraft, which violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and make a mockery of the timelines for legal conventional arms sales that were on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.
And look at the minor sanctions thrown at Tehran for its most recent ballistic-missile tests, which challenge the credibility of the agreement's time-limited restraints on the mullahs' atomic ambitions. There had been a blanket prohibition on nuclear-capable missile research under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929: "Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology." That wording was changed in Resolution 2231, which implemented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: "Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. . ." Kerry and Ambassador Stephen Mull, the lead coordinator on implementing the agreement, were either daydreaming or fibbing when they told Congress that Resolution 2231 clearly restricted Tehran's lawful capacity to launch long-range ballistic missiles. The White House tried to spin its response to the tests—minor sanctions against individuals and companies in easily replaced procurement networks—as a serious punishment for Iran's continuing missile development, which the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has declared off-limits to U.N. oversight.
Then consider the White House's assiduous ambivalence about extending the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, which underpins the more punishing 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act and expires at the end of this year. Extension doesn't mean enforcement: It would allow the president to threaten "snapback" sanctions against Iran's energy sector, in particular the critical upstream foreign investments in the oil and natural-gas industries. The administration has urged Congress to hold off, obviously worried that an extension could seriously upset the mullahs. But it's been hinting it will support renewal later in the hopes of siphoning Democratic support from the bipartisan effort for extension, which would allow Congress to pass new sanctions against the clerical regime for its continuing ballistic-missile development, human-rights violations, and support to terrorists. If the administration is so reticent now about showing just a bit of muscle, there is little reason to believe that as the agreement progresses Obama will be any more inclined to play tough against Tehran. In the end, he may choose to veto an extension, so as not to legislatively arm his successor, who may not share his hope that commerce will moderate the mullahs.
Perhaps most tellingly, look at the restrained Washington rhetoric around the Islamic Republic's actions in Syria. The president and his aides are harsher towards Vladimir Putin than they are towards Khamenei, even though Iran's contributions, both military and financial, to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's survival have been greater than Russia's. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis have been slaughtered in the last five years and millions have been made homeless, displaced, and pushed towards Europe, and it's the clerical regime, not Russia, that has been the primary enabler of this horror show.
If the deal stands beyond Obama's presidency, there will be no meaningful pushback by the United States and Europe against Assad. Any serious military effort to aid the Syrian opposition would perforce target Iranians and Russians, who have become the linchpins of Assad's military power. Putin's recent decision to withdraw some of his forces doesn't really change this calculation. Russian aircraft are still bombing Syrian targets, and Moscow has kept naval and air bases in Syria, so any planes or helicopters withdrawn can quickly be sent back. If the United States decided to check the Assad-Iran-Russia axis, especially by giving military backing to the creation of a safe haven in Syria (once, perhaps still, Clinton's preferred Syrian strategy), it would challenge Iran's insistence on the survival of the Shiite Alawite regime.
Washington would also come into conflict with Tehran if the United States gathered and led a large Sunni Arab force in Iraq capable of pushing back against the Islamic State. The rise of the Wahhabi Sunni jihadist group has made Iraqi Shiite Arabs, who have had a long, tense, and sometimes bitter relationship with Shiite Iranians, much more dependent on Tehran. Iran has a strategic interest in preventing Iraqi stability and any Sunni-Shiite political settlement there…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Hamas Still Finds Harbor in Turkey: Jonathan Schanzer, Weekly Standard, June 8, 2016—Turkey is one or two meetings away from normalizing ties with Israel, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the media Tuesday. Ties between the two countries have been frosty since 2010, when Ankara sponsored a flotilla to the Gaza Strip, a territory held by the terrorist organization Hamas, in a bid to break the Israeli-led international blockade. Israeli commandos boarded one of the ships, leading to a confrontation that resulted in ten deaths.
Europe’s Turkey Dilemma: Migration vs. Democracy: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2016—The Middle East refugee crisis and Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism have put the European Union in front of a moral dilemma…
Iran’s Anger Over Ontario Court Ruling Threatens Liberal Attempts to Mend Diplomatic Ties: Stewart Bell, National Post, June 14, 2016 —An Ontario court decision that holds Iran financially accountable to victims of the terrorist groups it sponsors is threatening to complicate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempts to mend diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic.
Iran’s Chess Board: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2016—Strategic thinking has always been Israel’s Achilles’ heel. As a small state bereft of regional ambitions, so long as regional realities remained more or less static, Israel had little reason to be concerned about the great game of the Middle East.