The Jewish debt to the Turks goes back centuries to when the Ottomans took in thousands of Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Moreover, when Israel was shunned for decades by nearly every Muslim country, it was Turkey that was Israel's military ally, friend, and commercial trading partner. And even in the midst of growing Turkish hostility, it behooves the Jewish state not to forget this debt of gratitude.
I have personally visited Istanbul as a Yarmulke-wearing, tzitzis-flying Jewish Rabbi, and was warmly welcomed by Muslims everywhere. On her way back from Israel last year, my wife went through Istanbul with five of our children, including our baby, and was amazed at how many Muslim merchants gave the baby presents. My family came away smitten with Turkey.
But my call for Jewish memory and gratitude is becoming increasingly strained by the mouth of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made himself into a living fountain spewing anti-Israel invective. His latest attack on the Jewish state on CNN's Fareed Zakaria beggared belief. Israel, he said, "shows no mercy" and is "cruel" in its treatment of Palestinians. Not content to feed the worst anti-Semitic Shakespearean stereotypes of Jews being vindictive and heartless, he trivialized Jewish suffering at the hands of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas before offering an unbelievable blood libel claiming "hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were killed" as a result of military action by Israel. Earlier he had accused Israel of acting like "a spoiled boy" and described the flotilla raid as "savagery."
Erdogan is claiming that Israeli actions border on genocide and that Israel indiscriminately kills Palestinians when the truth is that the Israeli military is, given the level of threat it faces, one of the most humane and restrained in the world. Even if it were true that Israel has killed anything near that number it would still have to be seen in the context of the Palestinian people declaring a non-stop war of annihilation against the Jewish state and Israel being forced to defend itself. Hamas's 1988 charter, which calls for the complete obliteration and dissolution of Israel, captures the level of hatred the Palestinians have harbored against Israel. Some choice nuggets include:
"The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him... The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone... Jews control the world media (and use their) wealth to stir revolutions ... There was no war that broke out anywhere without their (Jews') fingerprints on it." Hamas Imam Sheik Yunus-al-Astal talked about a verse from Koran suggesting "suffering by fire is the Jews' destiny in this world and the next." And, "Therefore we are sure that the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews." (NYTimes.com, April 1, 2008)
That Erdogan would speak as if Israel callously attacks a group which has for years launched rocket attacks against Israeli hospitals, kindergartens, and family homes is an indication of a deep-seated hostility to the Jewish state which he spares no opportunity in maligning.
But Erdogan's numbers are grotesque exaggerations designed to portray Israel as a genocidal power.
The exact number of Palestinians killed in the last two Intifadas, beginning in 1987, is difficult to glean, but the most accurate numbers as assembled in Wikipedia from the United Nations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and assorted Human Rights groups put Palestinian casualties from the beginning of the First Intifada in 1987 until 1993 at 1,376 by Israeli security forces and 1,000 murdered by the Palestinians themselves.
The Second Intifada, from 2000 till the present, is said to have seen the death of 4,850 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces and 594 Palestinians killed by Palestinians. It bears mentioning that during the Second Intifada 1,062 Israelis died at Palestinian terrorist hands.
It goes without saying that this is a far cry from Erdogan's libel of hundreds of thousands of deaths and the attempt to decontextualize the deaths of even these thousands.
Starting in the 1960's, the PLO made a global name for itself through international terror. In 1969 alone, the PLO hijacked 82 planes. In the 1972 Olympics it murdered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. Since the Oslo Accords signed, Palestinians have killed 53 Americans and Injured 83 Americans. (Jewish Virtual Library)
But if Erdogan is truly concerned about Palestinian life, as indeed he and all of us ought to be, he would condemn the unbelievable Arab-on-Arab violence that has left far greater numbers dead. In the first Intifada, more than 1000 Palestinians were killed by the PLO for supposedly "informing" for Israel. (Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2002)
As early as the 1930s revolts in Palestine, Arabs fought each other. During the Lebanese Civil War, two Palestinian movements battled one another, leaving thousands of Palestinians dead. (Federal Research Division, Middle East Contemporary Survey, Volume 11, Google Books)
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in Gaza, Hamas has killed and tortured thousands of other Palestinians who oppose their rule. By 2007, more than 600 Palestinians died during the struggle between Hamas and Fatah. (Ynetnews.com, June 6, 2007)
Between 1986 and 1989, the Al-Anfal Genocidal campaign in Iraq against the Kurdish People and others have Saddam Hussein's army killing 200,000 of his own civilians in that period. (The Middle East: A History, 2004) And the NY Times has reported that Saddam Hussein has "murdered as many as a million of his people." (Oct. 7, 2007) The vast majority of these people were, of course, Arabs.
I am religious Jews who believes that Arabs are my brothers and are, of course, equal children of G-d in every way. The death of even a single Palestinian is a tragedy. But what choice does Israel have when the Palestinians launch wave after wave of horrific terror against innocent Israeli men, women and children. Will Erdogan next condemn the United States for the thousands of Taliban fighters it has killed in Afghanistan? Will he deplore American Predator strikes against Al Qaida in Pakistan? Since when is there a moral equivalence between the taking of a life in self defense and the taking of a life in an act of cold-blooded murder?
Just as it is proper for Jews to try and overlook Turkey's current leader and remember the age-old friendship between the two peoples, it behooves the Turks themselves to rein in their prime minister from his character assassination of the Jewish state.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of the Global Institute for Values Education, has just published "Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley) and in December will publish "Kosher Jesus." Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.