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 dictates, was to appoint ambassadors to each other's capital. With a theoretical new chapter opening in troubled relations, Turkey and Israel appointed two prominent career diplomats, Kemal Ökem and Eitan Na'eh, respectively.
This author's pessimistic guess at the time was: "The diplomats may be willing, but with (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan's persistent Islamist ideological pursuits, they would seem to have only a slim chance of succeeding". 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 are once again ambassador-less. The loveless date has turned into a tussle.
"A crime against humanity," Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, shouted after clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters caused the deaths of dozens of demonstrators. Erdoğan described the incidents as a "genocide" and Israel as a "terrorist state." "No matter from what side, whether from the United States or Israel, I curse this humanitarian plight, this genocide," he said. Then what would naturally happen happened.
Turkey recalled Ökem "for consultations" and told Na'eh to leave the country "for a while." Na'eh was shown on Turkish television undergoing an airport security check in public view in an apparent plot that aimed to degrade him in the eyes of the public. In return, Israel asked the Turkish Consul General in Jerusalem to temporarily to leave the country.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter that Erdoğan was in no position to "preach morality to us." Netanyahu tweeted: "There is no doubt he (Erdoğan) well understands terrorism and slaughter." Erdoğan tweeted back that Netanyahu was the leader of "an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people's lands for 60+ years in violation of U.N. resolutions." He added: "Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments".
A member of the Knesset, Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), replied to Erdogan:
"We will not accept lectures from the anti-Semitic Turkish butcher, who blows up daily thousands of Kurds living in northwestern Syria, and whose country is responsible for the massacre of the Armenian nation and the historical atrocities done to the Assyrians".
Anger in the Knesset led to various retaliatory proposals including cancelling joint meetings with senior Turkish officials, calls for Israelis to cancel vacations in Turkey and calls for Israel to recognize the rights of the Kurdish minority in Syria. More importantly, some members of the Knesset proposed passing a bill that recognized the early 20th century killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians under Ottoman rule as genocide.
In Turkey, Erdoğan summoned an emergency meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. His government quickly put together a massive anti-Israeli meeting in Istanbul. There, Erdoğan falsely compared Israel's actions in Gaza to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in the Holocaust during World War II. "There is no difference between the atrocity faced by the Jewish people in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality that our Gaza brothers are subjected to," he said.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called for Israel to be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister for national infrastructure, energy and water, replied: "If Çavuşoğlu would look at what Turkey is doing to the Kurds both in Turkey and in Syria, he would understand that Turkey is 'ripe' to end up at the ICC long before Israel."
Ironically, a helping hand to Erdoğan in the latest row with Israel came from Jews. Along the sidelines of his state visit to Britain, Erdoğan met in London on May 15 with members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta International organization, a group that is against the existence of the state of Israel. "We have to realize and understand that helping the state of Israel is not in the favor of Jewish people," Elahanan Beck, the chief rabbi of Neturei Karta, said. "If you want to help the Jewish people, follow the example of what the Turkish president did: Withdraw your ambassador from there and come out in the clear".
The only Jewish friends Erdoğan could make were the anti-Zionist Jews. The Turkish president has never hidden his anti-Zionist (and pro-Hamas) ideology. Speaking at a United Nations forum in 2013, Erdoğan said Zionism was a crime against humanity "like fascism and Islamophobia".
How could there ever be long-lasting peace between a Zionist state and another nation whose president persistently thinks Zionism is a crime against humanity?
Burak Bekdil is a fellow at the Middle East Forum