Mustafa Akyol writes: Last week, during a visit to Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initiated an international controversy by condemning “Zionism,” albeit in passing. “As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism,” he said, “it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity.”
Soon objections came. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the comment “unfortunate” and “hurtful and divisive.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expectedly sharper, by defining Erdoğan’s words as “a dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world.”
The issue surfaced during the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Turkey as well. Kerry, on his first trip to a Muslim country since taking office, found welcoming hosts in Ankara, but he noted that he found Erdoğan’s comments “objectionable.”
But why did Erdoğan create such a fuss? And what did he really mean?
As a longtime observer of the Turkish prime minister, here is my humble advice for anyone who would like to find an answer to such questions: Erdoğan is a very Turkish politician. He, in other words, thinks and speaks in very local terms, not international ones. Therefore when he speaks of “Zionism,” what he has in mind is what most Turks have in mind, rather than what Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu and Kerry have in theirs.
And there is a big gap between these two. Zionism, by international definitions, is a form of Jewish nationalism that is focused on founding and securing a Jewish state in what Jewish sources call “the Land of Israel.” Of course, Arabs call the same land “Palestine,” and the ones who used to live there, the Palestinians, have conflicted with Zionism from the beginning. In return, Zionists have taken various attitudes against Palestinians, ranging from moderate views which hope to co-exist with the Arabs to radical views which want to “transfer” all of them to other countries, which is a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. [Continue reading…]