Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Francesco Hayez, 1867.
Less than a year ago, Turkey and Israel agreed to end their six-year-long diplomatic stand-off and officially "normalized" their relations. They appointed ambassadors Kemal Okem to Israel and Eitan Na'eh to Turkey, two prominent career diplomats, who, since then, have been struggling actually to normalize formally normalized ties. As some observers, including your humble correspondent, cautioned in 2016:
Erdogan had pragmatically agreed to shake hands with Israel, but his ideological hostility to the Jewish state and his ideological love affair with Hamas have not disappeared; so the Turkish-Israeli 'peace' would not be easy to sustain.
Only half a year into the "normalized charter" Erdogan in May pledged that his government would work with the Palestinian people to guard against the "Judaization of Jerusalem." This may be vintage Erdogan. The Turkish president's promise was not too different from a call for a struggle to guard against the "Catholicization of the Vatican."
It is elementary history that Jerusalem's pre-Islamic period of 3300-1000 BCE appeared in the book of Genesis -- the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- when Erdogan's ancestors were probably hunters in the steppes of Central Asia. The years 1000-732 BCE marked the period of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Simply put, Jerusalem's Judaic history dates back thousands of years before the birth of Islam.
Erdogan has pledged to fight the 'Judaization of Jerusalem' and 'drive out the occupiers.'
Nevertheless, according to Erdogan, there is a necessity "to protect-against the Judaization of Jerusalem." Erdogan, in his May speech, also repeated an earlier call for Muslims from around the world to "visit al-Aqsa" mosque, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. "As a Muslim community, we need to visit al-Aqsa Mosque often," he said. "Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us."
In 2016, a total of 26,000 Turks visited al-Aqsa Mosque (out of a population of 80 million). Erdogan also said he wants "hundreds of thousands of Muslims" at the Muslim holy site in his campaign to "flood Jerusalem [with Muslims] and drive out the occupiers".
During the reconciliation with Israel, Ankara pledged to end its support for Hamas; Turkey even expelled Saleh al-Arouri, the most senior Hamas official then residing in the country. But ultimately, there were reports that Erdogan was not really willing to live up to his end of the bargain. The journalist Yoav Zitun wrote in Ynet News:
Hamas' presence in Turkey continues despite the departure of Saleh al-Arouri, who headed Hamas in Turkey before leaving the country following Israeli demands during the reconciliation negotiations.
His successors are recruiting Palestinian students to study in Muslim countries in general and Turkey in particular. The students are then sent for military training in Lebanon or Syria, and from there, return to the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israel.
Zitun details some intriguing cases:
For example, two months ago, the IDF and Shin Bet detained, a Palestinian who had been living in Turkish Cyprus for several years. In August 2015, Qazmar was recruited in Jordan by Hamas, given military training and explosives expertise. During a meeting with Hamas operatives in Istanbul last January, he was instructed to recruit terrorists in the West Bank using encrypted memory cards.
Another highly publicized case concerns Muhammad Murtaja, who has head of a humanitarian aid organization of the Turkish government in Gaza. According to the Shin Bet following his arrest, Murtaja was accused of transferring millions of dollars to Hamas operatives that was donated by Ankara.
Turkish money flowing into the hands of men who are committed to the annihilation of Israel is part of ideology, not humanitarian aid.
Trying to brand itself as the international savior of the Islamist cause, Turkey has, since 2004, invested millions of dollars into 63 different projects designed to "defend and strengthen the Muslim heritage and character of Jerusalem." The money is often channeled through a government agency, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA).
In these efforts to "defend and strengthen Jerusalem's Muslim heritage and character" Turkey also partnered with Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and with Sheikh Akram Sabri, a former mufti of Jerusalem. Both men oppose to Israel's right to exist.
As an American friend delicately asked: "Isn't Turkey supposed to be investing millions to help rebuild Gaza?"
Not, it seems, when Islamist ideology is involved.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.