1. How do you explain Erdogan’s recent statements against Israel, in terms of timing and content?
Not surprising. Erdogan is very well-known with his anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric and recent history showed that he doesn’t hesitate to exploit public sentiments to position himself as an anti-imperialist warrior and the hero of the Arab Street. His epistemological roots push him to behave very sympathetically to the Hamas leadership –similarly to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt- in addition to his rational calculations to position Turkey against oligarchs of the Middle East.
Moreover, after the first wave of the Gaza assaults (2009) — Turkey was trying to act as a mediator- Erdogan took this issue as a personal attack to himself, this perspective created a good environment for the Davos Incident.
Erdogan seems as a very emotional politician but our experience showed that he’s very good to transfer emotions to public support. Hence, recent developments provided him an opportunity to remind his personality as the “voice of the silent people” and reframe his opponents as agents of “foreign powers”, it is also another best-selling theme in Turkish politics.
2. Are anti-Israel declarations an electoral asset in advance of Turkey’s presidential elections?
Rhetorically yes. However, we don’t have any empirical evidence. Polls before and after the Davos Incident showed that his public support increased for a very short term, than declined. Supporters of the AKP supported his behavior and his opponents didn’t approve it; nobody changed his/her position. Personally I don’t believe that his anti-Israel rhetoric will bring him some extra votes –since 90 percent of voters already decided- however it may help to foster his positioning as the “advocate of victims”, especially in the Muslim world.
Divide between Erdoğan and Turkish nationalists is based on the Kurdish issue and his anti-Israeli positioning cannot remedy this divide.
3. How do other parties or politicians relate to this topic? Are there voices who criticize Erdogan for his remarks?
No. There is a fertile environment for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Turkey and every politician can use this opportunity to attract some extra votes or consolidate his constituency.
For example, the leader of the social democratic party asked to close the Kürecik Station (run by the NATO) to “prevent Israel’s defense against Hamas missiles”. Another member of this party accused the government selling fuel to Israel.
Leader of the miniscule liberal party is attacking to government by underlining trade volume increased five times during their rule — meanwhile percentage of exports to Israel declined to 1.7 in 2012 from 2.2 in 2004- and there are 8 flights to TelAviv from Istanbul.
Opposition parties ask for breaking economic and strategic ties with Israel and imposing further sanctions. Hence, we can say that there is a competition for anti-Israel positioning. And it needs a lot of social courage for voicing alternative points of views.
4. Did you believe there will be a shift in attitude toward Israel at the end of the current operation in Gaza or after Turkey’s presidential elections?
I believe that link between foreign policy issues and voting behavior is unclear and positions of political parties don’t directly affect voters’ decisions. But these positions have two different functions:
1. Foreign policy issues help parties to clarify their positions on domestic issues and consolidate their voters. For example, the Gaza operation serves as an acid test to show your party’s anti-Imperialist standing or any clash with the EU provides a good opportunity to show how much your party is pro-EU or not.
2. Rhetoric of politicians shape opinions of the public. As politicians –elites- interpret developments and reframe them according to their points of view, voters buy it and reposition themselves according to this framing. For example the Gaza operation is framed as an “invasion” by the majority of Turkish elite. Not surprisingly, ordinary citizen will interpret this development as an invasion –of an independent state by another independent state-. Or, it presented as an assault against the weak civilians –babies, children, women-. Hence, it is not surprising that voters will read every development from this perspective, presenting the “brutality” of Israel forces.
First one is not a big threat, because overall weight of this opportunity is relatively small and it can change overtime according to domestic demands. For example, the Northern Iraq Administration was the biggest enemy of Turkey in 2004. Now, it is not.
However, the second one is much more critical. Politicans’ rhetoric shapes people’s views. And frames are inter-generationally transferrable, meaning that today’s speeches may be reflected on tomorrow’s opinions. Considering extraordinary xenophobic attitudes of Turkish public, these frames will find a very fertile environment.
We need to be careful about the second one and present alternative frames to advocate peace, cooperation and friendship in the region.