Turkey: an honest broker in the Middle East

I can't say I was surprised when I read Joshua Teitelbaum's piece "Turkey is calling for a jihad against Israel". For some time now, rather similar pieces regarding Turkey have been published in the American and European press. It's clear that, following the bloody act of piracy in international waters against the Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid volunteers from Turkey and 32 other nations, there has been a mobilisation of anti-Turkey information warfare.

Just as Teitelbaum's perspective on the event is problematic, the information he cites is almost entirely out of touch with reality. Above all, just as the venture was not one of pro-Hamas militants, nor was it solely a Turkish enterprise, either. It was organised by an international civilian initiative known as Free Gaza. Among the volunteers, who were nearly all aboard the Mavi Marmara, were the civilian citizens of 33 nations, including the US, UK, Australia, Greece, Canada, Malaysia, Morocco, Serbia, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Kuwait. Also among the volunteers were 15 members of the European parliament, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Ireland and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. Just as there were Turks and others on the ship, there were, alongside Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists. It is greatly misleading to blame Turkey and the Turkish government for this enterprise, which was a civilian and international humanitarian aid effort in the fullest sense.

And as much of a deception is it to say that those on the ships constituted a threat to Israel. After all, the humanitarian aid flotilla in question was trying to bring humanitarian aid supplies not to Israeli lands, but to the Gaza Strip, which is suffering under Israel's inhumane blockade and where 1.4 million civilians are struggling to stay alive amid utter poverty. Just as Israel has no legitimate right of dominion over Gaza or Gaza's seas, the Israeli military's armed action that killed nine humanitarian aid volunteers on the Mavi Marmara and left around 20 wounded took place 73 miles away, in international territory. Such an attack shows scant regard for international law and conventions.

Teitelbaum's claim that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had called for a jihad against Israel is completely baseless and, like his other claims, does not reflect the truth. It is ridiculous to accuse the Turkish people – who always extended a helping hand to Jews when they were cast out of Spain in 1492, and when they fell victim to the Holocaust in Europe in the 1940s – of opening a jihad against Israel. From Erdoğan downwards, the Turkish government and Turks have succeeded in distinguishing between the Israeli government and the Israeli people and Jews in their criticisms. Not a single representative of the government, even when uttering harsh criticism of the Israeli government's incomprehensible attacks, has ever used a discourse that targets Israeli citizens or Jews in general.

In order to understand why the bloody Mavi Marmara attack took place, we must recall what has gone on between Turkey and Israel in the last few years. While Turkey, in its capacity as a rising regional peacemaker, played moderator between Syria and Israel, only a few days after a visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Ankara, the Israeli army entered Gaza and killed 1,400 civilians, leaving Ankara feeling shocked and dismayed. Erdoğan, who felt personally betrayed, reacted harshly to the attack on Gaza, leading to his angry statement at Davos ("the Israeli government knows very well how to kill civilians").

Following the Davos incident, Israel made a move to deal a blow to Turkey's prestige in the region: in a complete violation of the rules of diplomacy, it set up the "low chair" trap for the Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv. Israel eventually apologised to Turkey after that.

Israel has also grown greatly discomfited at Turkey's taking on a facilitator role between Iran and the west in recent days. Just as Israel was able largely to forestall the latest diplomatic efforts by Turkey and Brazil, it is also working to create the conditions necessary for a military intervention into Iran – which is a signatory to the NPT and member of the IAEA and, at least in appearance, has its nuclear programme under international supervision. Israel, meanwhile, belongs to neither and is therefore in a tight spot. It also holds Turkey responsible for all this, increasing its resentment.

Contrary to what Teitelbaum wrote, Turkey today wants niether to be a new Ottoman empire, nor to fly a flag of jihad against any country or civilisation. Quite the reverse, Turkey with its rising political and diplomatic power is serving world peace and stability to the full extent of its capacity. Turkey's efforts in peacemaking as part of the Alliance of Civilisations initiative, of which it is co-president with Spain, have have extended to constructive contacts between, for example, Syria and Iraq, different factions in Iraq, factions in Lebanon, Israel and Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bosnia and Serbia, Russia and Georgia and so on – completely debunking the idea that Turkey harbours jihadist goals.

It's true that Turkish flags are waved in Muslim countries, but it would be misleading to say that Turkey only maintains good relations with Islamic countries. Turkey today enjoys good relations with all of its neighbours, east and west, north and south. It also takes an active role in many international organisations: the UN Security Council, Nato, G20 and others, and fully shoulders its responsibilities in those roles.

The Erdoğan government is working as hard as possible to bring Turkey up to EU norms, and these western-oriented policies and reforms can be seen in the EU's Turkey progress reports. Far from Teitelbaum's view, the Erdoğan government is constantly battling obstruction and resistance from deep state groups such as the Ergenekon network.

Turks have been oriented toward the west for 250 years. I have confidence that Turkey will continue to strive on all fronts by legal means and will maintain its place on the moral high ground against inhumane attacks and campaigns of lies.

Bülent Kenes, the editor in chief of Today's Zaman, the most circulated English daily in Turkey.