As I prepare to leave for my trip to Turkey, I am struck by video on the web showing public protests in Istanbul and Ankara against the recent raid by the Israeli navy on a Turkish humanitarian aid flotilla headed for Gaza.
As a Brooklyn native, I have been to some tough parts of the world before, and Turkey is not one of them. (Just in case, I may bring my trusty Canadian backpack to prevent some heated arguments). Turkey is a Muslim country, with a secular government vying for recognition by the European Union on the one hand, and dealing with its own controversial history regarding Armenians on the other.
But these recent protests in Turkey are justified. The raid, resulting in 9 deaths of Turkish humanitarian aid workers, has created an outcry from around the world, with many viewing not only the blockade of Gaza as a violation of international and human rights law but the deaths as criminal. Subsequently Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel and, just this week, South Africa has done the same.
Hilary Clinton almost a week after the incident made a statement that the U.S. “supports the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of the raid” but stopped short of verbally supporting Turkey.
Remember, Turkey is a U.S. ally and was also the chosen country some months ago by President Obama to extend his ever-growing olive branch to Muslim countries. Yet Obama’s slow reaction to condemning the recent raid by Israel has created more tension between these two countries and their position on Palestine.
And you know the situation is bad when even the matriarch of White correspondents, Helen Thomas, can’t contain her finger wagging at the President for his inadequate response to Israel. But she has also been criticized before for being a little too undisciplined in her comments on Israel.
The real question the Obama administration must address moving forward is how to deal with this deep seated and long history of conflict between Palestine and Israel without alienating his pro-Israel base within the Democratic party? To say we need another “peace process” is an easy response. This task requires making clear and deliberate distinctions between retrograde Israeli policies and practices toward Palestine and the justification for the existence of a secured Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state, with reestablished borders.
More importantly, simply reducing all public criticism of Israeli governmental and military actions to anti-semitism is short-sided and convenient, and seeks to explain away a thorough examination of any problematic stances by any nation-state. There is nothing intrinsic to “Jewish culture” that explains military annexation of Gaza just like there is nothing intrinsic to “American culture” that explains the United States invading Iraq.
These are military maneuvers by developed countries to promote their own geo-political interests, and should be criticized as such. Moreover, cultural or religious assertions of ties to land tend to be useful proxies for justifying state power and aggression toward others.
Its time to condemn any inhumanity to each other, wherever and whoever it may be. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. said that in some iteration, some time ago.