October 29, 2014 | The Canadian Jewish News

The Troubling Truth About Turkey

Those who downplay the danger posed by terrorism often fall back on the argument that the terrorist designation is nothing more than a political instrument to attack one’s opponents or dissenters, and is therefore entirely subjective. 

Saudi Arabia has just bolstered this claim. Human Rights Watch recently reported that the kingdom has classified atheists as terrorists, alongside truly dangerous groups such as the Islamic State. 

This is a stark example of how autocratic governments often abuse the terrorist label. But democracies must hold themselves to a higher standard: they must objectively and consistently designate terrorist individuals, groups, and states based on fair meanings of those terms. 

Canada has sound definitions of what it means for an individual or group to commit terrorism and for a foreign government to sponsor it. But Ottawa’s list of terror-sponsoring states currently stands at two. While Iran and Syria unequivocally deserve their places on that list, there are other countries that meet the legislative criteria for censure as sponsors of terror.

My last column urged Ottawa to reconsider its relationship with Qatar, given its sponsorship of Hamas and other troubling conduct.

The same can be said of Turkey, another ostensible western ally. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has failed to contribute to the security of Europe and North America, as NATO membership dictates. On the contrary, Turkey provides financial support to terrorist entities such as Hamas; has helped Iran evade international sanctions; and has deliberately allowed a porous border into Syria – facilitating the flow of fighters, weapons and money to the Islamic State and other violent groups.

Turkey’s sponsorship of Hamas is striking. Erdogan’s Ministry of Finance reportedly set aside $300 million for the Hamas government in Gaza in December 2011. Turkey is also the home base for Saleh al-Arouri, the founder of Hamas’ armed wing. He’s believed to be involved in raising money for Hamas, and directing the group’s terrorist operations in the West Bank. Al-Arouri is not living clandestinely in Turkey. In March 2012, he took part in a Hamas delegation that met with high-ranking Turkish government officials to discuss developments in Palestinian politics, and in October 2012, he travelled from Turkey to Gaza to be present for the arrival of Qatar’s emir. 

Mahmoud Attoun and Taysir Suleiman are other Hamas figures believed to be living in Turkey. Both were tried in court, found guilty of murder and given life sentences in Israel, but were freed following a prisoner exchange deal to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. They now speak publicly in Turkey and elsewhere, extolling Hamas’ virtues. 

The Erdogan government’s close associations with the IHH further reveal its support for Hamas. The IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi) is a member of the Union of Good, an umbrella group of more than 50 Islamic funds and foundations that was banned by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for transferring funds to Hamas. Treasury noted that “some of the funds transferred by the Union of Good have compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.” Canada should investigate the IHH not only in the context of Turkey’s terror sponsorship, but as potentially worthy in itself of a terrorist designation. 

If Canada is reluctant to name Turkey as a state sponsor of terror in the near term, incremental steps could be taken to pressure Erdogan to behave as a true NATO ally. For example, terrorist entities based in Turkey might be designated first. Next would be the listing of Turkish terror sponsors – be they individuals, front companies or charities. Only if these measures fail to influence Ankara would the more drastic step be taken of designating Turkey as a state sponsor of terror. 

One way or another, Canada must prove itself to be a fair arbiter of who qualifies as a terror sponsor, and take a strong stand against Turkey’s alarming behaviour. 

Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.