What Israel Can Learn From Turkey

Originally published on, the citizen journalism site covering world news at the local level.

By Selene Verri

Turkey recently condemned Israel's offensive in Gaza. Ankara has even decided to suspend its mediating efforts between Israel and Syria.

It would be easy to dismiss such a position as just solidarity with the Muslim brothers and sisters in Gaza. Not that it would be wrong. But I would like to change the perspective on the issue, noticing that Israel and Turkey, two long-standing allies, have more in common than one could imagine:

1. Both Turkey and Israel are countries strongly defined by their main religions, and yet both are secular countries. In both cases religion identifies largely with ethnicity (with the important exceptions of Kurds, of course, where ethnicity is predominant, and Alevis, who are not considered as a religion minority). Which has brought discrimination and / or war against religious and / or ethnic minorities. The modalities are different, but the similarities are striking.

2. Both Turkey and Israel are countries artificially created by the international community. Israel, through the partition of Palestine into two states decided by the United Nations in 1947; Turkey, through the Treaty of Lausanne, which in 1923 replaced the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, actually reintegrating a series of territories which had been previously stripped off it, and frustrating the Kurds' hopes for an independent State (hopes that had been fed by the Treaty of Sèvres). I should add that the international community has not little responsibility in the Armenian genocide.

3. Both countries have compulsory military service. In Israel, it applies both to men (3 years) and women (2 years); in Turkey, it's mandatory only for men (15 months). I admit I don't know what the consequences of this are in Israel (where a limited amount of conscientious objection exists anyway), but I know in Turkey for a long time this situation helped PKK recruit militants, since many Kurds did not wish to be sent to fight against their own fathers or brothers, preferring rather fight at their side.

4. Both countries are just a few weeks away from the next electoral rendezvous. On February 10, Israelis will vote for the next government (and, for those of you who can read French, I suggest that you go through this interesting article by Le Monde); on March 29, municipal elections will take place in Turkey.

Let me focus on this last point. The key issue in Turkey's local elections will be the Kurdish majority regions (what PKK and in general militant Kurds refer to as "Kurdistan", a word that in Turkey can bring you straight to prison). On the subject, I recommend you read this article on the Christian Science Monitor.

Now, what has been the big news in Turkey in the last few days (apart from Nazim Hikmet's rehabilitation)? I quote from Reuters:

Turkey has launched its first 24-hour Kurdish-language TV station.

Which brings me to the conclusion:

1. Israel is moving towards elections → Israel bombs Palestinians

2. Turkey is moving towards elections → Turkey gives more rights to Kurds

Of course Kurds are not satisfied, and they are not completely paranoid in considering this decision as a way by the government to get as many votes as they can, in short a propaganda move. It is also true that Ankara has quite a double-face attitude: while PKK is considered a terrorist group, soon after Hamas won the elections the AKP government welcomed to Turkey Khaled Meshal, the exiled Hamas leader. And they never uttered a word about the rockets fired against Israel.

Nonetheless, one cannot help noticing that making propaganda through opening up to minorities is a more democratic way than bombing civilians. So, what are the main differences in this situation? Why do two similar countries in two similar situations act in such different ways?

First of all, Turkey is a EU candidate. It is true that in the last few years the great reform impulse that marked the first period of the AKP government has slowed down, if not thoroughly stopped. And the new nationalistic vague has not helped in that sense. It is also true that this government is struggling hard at least to show a nice image of itself, which is surely not enough, but it's helping improvement. And improvement is never easy, especially for a proud people like Turks. The journey is still long, but the path is the right one.

Now, this doesn't mean of course that Israel should be a candidate to the EU, but at least it shows that the EU can actually have a role in international politics. More than that: personally, I think we have a responsibility in that sense.

But in all this story we must not forget one decisive point: in Turkey, Kurds vote. In Israel, Palestinians don't.

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