Each time the Arab-Israel dispute turns violent on Israeli soil, Turks immediately return to their post-truth mode. One newspaper headline proudly says that Palestinian fighters shot 137 rockets into Israel within five minutes. The next headline says Israel is a state of terror because it reciprocated to attacks against its citizens.
"This is how al-Qassam Brigade hit a lifeline oil plant in Ashkelon-Eilat," one headline said. "Hamas hits, Zionists are burning," was another. "Rockets shock Zionists." "Tel Aviv turns into hell: Get worse, bastards!" "Zionists are fleeing Hamas rockets." And, according to Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza militants "have defended Jerusalem." There are more.
"To the Islamic world, we say: It's time to stop Israel's heinous and cruel attacks!" Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's spokesman, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter. On May 9, thousands of angry Turks demonstrated in support of Palestinians outside both Israel's Embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish police did not intervene despite a ban in place on large public gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. The crowds chanted: "Turkish soldiers to Gaza!"
In the meantime, Turkey withdrew an invitation extended earlier to Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz for the Antalya Diplomacy Forum on June 18-20, citing "Israel's increasing violations and attacks against Palestinians."
Secular Turks took advantage of the Islamist hysteria in humorous ways. When Ömer Lekesiz, a columnist for the Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, wrote, "May Allah give me a chance to become a martyr in the name of Palestine," some maverick Turks on social media sent him a link to the Turkish Airlines' Istanbul-Tel Aviv flight schedule, with a note that said: "Here is your flight. Go to Israel and become a martyr."
None of this anti-Israeli hysteria in Turkey is new. When Turkey and Israel decided to normalize their badly strained ties in December 2016, after more than six years of downgraded diplomatic relations, the first thing they did, as the protocol dictated, was to appoint ambassadors to each other's capital. In essence, Erdoğan had pragmatically agreed to shake hands with Israel, but his ideological hostility to the Jewish state and his ideological love affair with Hamas had not disappeared. After less than a year and a half, the Turkish and Israeli embassies in Tel Aviv and Ankara were once again ambassador-less. The loveless date had turned into a tussle after clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters caused the deaths of dozens of demonstrators.
It was another May, violent in Israel and hysterical in Turkey, three years ago. Turkey recalled its ambassador and asked the Israeli ambassador to leave the country "for a while," which became permanent.
There is, however, a significant difference between Turkey in May 2018 and May 2021. In May 2018, Turkey was heading for presidential and parliamentary elections -- which Erdoğan won with 51.5% of the national vote. Erdoğan was confident of "making Turkey great again" and systematically fueled hostility against Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In May 2021, Turkey is not heading for elections but for economic collapse and political isolation, and Erdoğan had just pushed the button to quietly reset relations with Turkey's adversaries around the Eastern Mediterranean basin, including Israel. Bad luck for Erdoğan. Wrong timing.
Erdoğan has grossly profited, in domestic politics, from every form and period of violence in the Arab-Israeli dispute in the past two decades. But he will not get anything from this year's clashes between terrorists and a legitimate state. There are no elections in sight. And the Turks, despite their usual manifest anti-Israeli behavior, are in fact too busy with their everyday struggles to bring bread to their homes and milk to their babies.
Some grocery stores in big cities like Istanbul have recently started to sell "stale bread" for the first time. A stale loaf sells at five US cents cheaper than standard bread and has thousands of customers. There are long queues in front of municipality-run shops selling subsidized bread, a dime cheaper than the market price of bread.
Erdoğan will not be able to take advantage of this year's unfortunate deaths in Israel and Gaza.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.