Thursday, January 29, 2009

Turkish PM Walks Out on Shimon Peres

Things were not so neutral today in Switzerland. During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan stormed off after having words with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Erdogan blasted Peres over Israel's three week defensive operation into Gaza calling it "an open air prison." "You kill people," Erdogan shouted at Peres. But the normally soft spoken Peres wasn't having any nonsense. "Why did they fire rockets? Whey did they fight us, what they want?," asked Peres, "There was never a day of starvation in Gaza."

Erdogan walked out when he refused to comply with the instructions of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius (who was serving as moderator) vowing never to return to Davos. Somehow I think the air in Davos will be a little more breathable without Erdogan.

This isn't the first time Erdogan has made waves while involved in a panel discussion with a former Israeli Prime Minister. During a panel discussion in Chicago in August 2007 with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Erdogan said:

First of all, the 'moderate Islam' concept is wrong. The word 'Islam' is a simple word - it is only Islam. If you say 'moderate Islam' then an alternative is created, and that is 'immoderate Islam.' I cannot accept such a concept as a Muslim. (

At this same forum Erdogan went to reject any notion of "Islamic terrorism."

What is so bothersome here is that Turkey has been the one Muslim country Israel could count on for support. Israel and Turkey have even done joint military exercises together. Of course, for eight decades Turkey has put secularism before Islam. But it appears the days of Ataturk are coming to an end. Erdogan has taken Turkey into an Islamist direction with the introduction of the head scarf and hijab as well as improved relations with Iran and Syria although it is worth noting that Turkey has played an ongoing role in mediating informal talks between Israel and Syria. I think it's safe to say that Turkey is no longer an honest broker. I just hope it doesn't take an incident at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara for the American political establishment to arrive that conclusion. But I suspect it might.

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