June 10, 2024 | Global Voices

Turkey’s Erdoğan reigns supreme at hypocrisy and double-speak

Erdoğan’s stance on the Gaza war is a façade, built on lies
June 10, 2024 | Global Voices

Turkey’s Erdoğan reigns supreme at hypocrisy and double-speak

Erdoğan’s stance on the Gaza war is a façade, built on lies

While hypocrisy is nothing new in global politics, Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan takes the practice to soaring new heights. He is a seasoned hypocrite, causing irreparable reputational damage to himself, and Turkey’s interests.

Erdoğan’s stance on the Gaza war is demonstrative of the pot calling the kettle black. He wants the world to believe he is the champion and protector of Palestinians. From his perspective, Gazans are being killed by a “spoiled” and “aggressive” Israeli war machine that is enabled by Western powers, particularly the United States. His supposed principled stance to stop Jerusalem from prosecuting its war against Hamas is based on three pillars: the refusal by Ankara to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization and to provide material support to it, and its leadership. As far as he’s concerned, Hamas is a resistance movement, struggling to liberate stolen lands from Palestinians by Jewish occupiers. Ankara also delivers the most aid to Gazans, coming in first among all nations shipping vital supplies to civilians caught up in the war against Hamas. Finally, Turkey inserted itself into legal proceedings against Israel. Turkey declared its intention to join a lawsuit, filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. 

Given that Erdoğan is president of a Muslim-majority country, which is overwhelmingly critical of Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza, one could be forgiven for thinking that Erdoğan is simply echoing the sentiments of his people. Especially throughout the Muslim world, Erdoğan wants people to know that Turkey is the loudest condemner of Israel’s actions, while many Arab states — especially those which are signatories of the Abraham Accords, have chosen to remain quiet. He employed a similar tactic against the ousting of Egypt’s Mohammad Morsi in 2013 by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, by calling upon world audiences to reject the forceful deposition of a democratically elected leader.

Erdogan’s entire stance is a façade, built on lies and hypocrisy. If Erdoğan believed Israel to be the “terror” state he accuses it of being, committing genocide which even “Hitler would have been jealous of,” why would Ankara continue business ties? Since October 7, trade with Israel has been a top issue that has sharpened criticism against Erdogan at home. With a total bilateral trade volume of USD 5.7 billion in 2023, Turkey has been a top exporter of goods to Israel. This figure is even more important when one considers Ankara to be among the top suppliers of strategic goods vital to Israel’s defense industry. Exports include USD 1.2 billion in steel and USD 563 million worth of vehicles. Additionally, Turkey continued to sell other vital materials, including everything from explosives, and concrete to thermal underwear worn by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Many political elites with business interests in Israel and close to Erdogan, including former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and Erdoğan’s own son, are profiteers from continued business with Israel. 

The escalation of the war against Hamas coincided with Turkey’s local elections on March 31. The country’s political opposition exposed Erdoğan’s weak underbelly and exploited it to devastating effect. The Islamist New Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah-WP), led by Fatih Erbakan, appealed to conservative constituents who ordinarily voted for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erbakan cornered Erdogan, by directly exposing his ongoing business ties with Israel. Supported by fiery speeches and journalists’ disclosures of trade statistics, Erbakan did not land any big victories, but he may have helped divert 7 percent of the vote from the AKP, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) clobbered the AKP nationwide. A lot of the dissatisfied voters likely punished Erdoğan for his bad stewardship of the economy, plagued by high inflation and high consumer prices. However, there is little doubt that pious voters are seriously disaffected with the AKP.   

It took losing the March local elections for  Erdoğan to get serious about cutting trade ties with the Jewish state, although speculation is rife that goods are still being shipped from Turkey to Israel, by way of third countries. To regain credibility with constituents, on April 9, Ankara announced trade restrictions against Israel, covering 54 categories of products, including iron, steel, cement, aluminum, and construction equipment. On May 2, Erdoğan announced the total suspension of trade with Israel “until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

These moves by Erdoğan signal two things: that Erdoğan and his cronies have been motivated more by greed than principle, and that his U-turn to punish Israel may backfire. The Israeli government likely has recourse to take Turkey to court for breaking existing contractual obligations. Already, U.S. members of Congress got the ball rolling by signing and sending a bipartisan letter to the Biden administration, calling upon the White House to “invoke antiboycott provisions under the Export Control Reform Act.” If the Turkish trade restrictions are enforced, then many Turkish firms engaged in business with Israel are likely to be hit with significant revenue losses.

This whole saga furthers the damage that Erdoğan’s greed-fueled hypocrisy is doing to Turkey’s international reputation. Turkey’s European allies are watching in bewilderment. In two recent yet separate meetings, one with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (November 2023) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (May 2024), Erdoğan publicly admonished two allies that consider Hamas a terrorist organization. During a live press conference, Erdogan rebuked Germany’s support of Israel, remarking, “We [Turkey] do not owe Israel anything” — a clear reference to Germany’s Nazi past. Given Ankara’s dealings with Israel, public displays that feign moral outrage towards other states fall upon deaf ears, and nobody takes Turkey seriously. 

While the decision to champion Hamas may be a personal choice for Erdoğan, broadly representative of the views of Muslims around the world, he overlooks one important point. Turkey is not just a Muslim country. It is a NATO member and a candidate country to join the European Union (EU). Turkey is the only country in NATO and aspiring member of the EU to vocally champion Hamas. This is different from being critical of Israel. There are far better avenues to be critical of a country’s policies, without being glaringly hypocritical. It appears that this thought did not cross Erdoğan’s mind. 

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at FDD and an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy.

Issues:

Israel Israel at War Palestinian Politics Turkey