The New York Times deserves its place as one of the best newspapers of the world. Like the actions of some of American presidents, however, its commentary on the Middle East seems to reflect more ideology than cogent analysis. Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen have been blathering on for years about the faults of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, without giving anything close to the same attention to Palestinian contributions toward a lack of agreement. That the sky has not fallen over Jerusalem does not seem to alert them to the possibility that the problem in the Middle East is Palestine and not Israel.
Today another player is heard from, with similar music. Anthony Shadid describes the emerging power of Turkey in the Middle East. "(Its) foreign minister envisions a new order there and its officials have managed to do what the Obama administration has so far failed to: position themselves firmly on the side of change in the Arab revolts and revolutions. . . . the public abroad seemed taken by a prime minister who portrayed himself as the proudly Muslim leader of a democratic and prosperous country that has come out forcefully on the side of revolution and in defense of Palestinian rights."
Shadid has some journalism prizes to his credit, but also a record of charging Israel with some of the most heinous of war crimes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Shadid
On this occasion, he is guilty of relying on Turkish officials to describe their achievements and aspirations, without weighing the barriers to their success. Against quotations from Turks, there are none from officials of other countries who, we hear, are suspicious of Turkish efforts.
As a Lebanese American, Shadid ought to recognize that the Middle East is a place of ethnic rivalries as well as religious loyalties. Turkish claims of being Muslim, with the ruling party serious about Islam, carries only so much weight with Arab populations. Turkey's problems with a large and restive Kurdish minority--with violence currently on an uptick--get in the way of claims to regional leadership. Shadid does report a cool reception for Erdogan by military personnel currently at the head of what stands as the government of Egypt. He also notes tensions with Iran over Turkey's acceptance of American radar installations. He mentions Turkey's current problems with the Assad regime in Syria and the conflict with Cyprus over that country's gas exploration, but does not indicate that both issues have ratcheted up to talk about military confrontations. NATO and the United States do not get the attention they warrant. Shadid leaves hanging a set of possibilities expressed by different officials in the Turkish government:
"Some Turkish officials worry that the crisis with Israel will end up hurting the relationship with Washington; others believe that Turkey is bent on supplanting Israel as the junior partner of the United States in the Middle East."
One expects some consideration about the relative weight in American politics of American Jews and American Turks, as well as American and NATO efforts to keep a lid on the simmering conflict between Turkey and Israel.
Israelis worry about the cold shoulder from Ankara. Mass tourism to the cheap and glitzy hotels on the Anatolian coast is down, but a recent item in Bloomberg BusinessWeek emphasizes the continued health of trade between the two countries. "Turkey-Israel Booming Trade Obscured in Erdogan Political Rants." http://english.cntv.cn/program/asiatoday/20110907/103792.shtml http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-09-22/turkey-israel-booming-trade-obscured-in-erdogan-political-rants.html
It is hard to rank the most serious of a country's problems. In Israel's case, it faces the New Year (5772) with pressing lack of resolutions on Palestinian and Turkish fronts, as well as domestic social protest. That it is well-educated and upper-middle class Yuppies leading the protest (termed Sushi eaters and Nargillah smokers by local cynics), does not lessen the weight on the polity of several hundred thousand people who took the trouble to march on one or another Saturday evening.
Yesterday we heard the report of the special committee appointed by the government to suggest remedies. It was clear before the presentation began that protest leaders and their own experts of left-wing academics would not be happy with the proposals. The committee could have profited from the help of trained presenters. The chairman droned on for more than an hour, followed by subject-matter experts who dealt more with the kind of statistics suitable for the inner rooms where technocrats squabble than with the drama appropriate for prime time television. This morning the news dealt with senior military personnel, bureaucrats, government ministers, leaders of trade unions and industry, each criticizing the proposals for taking too many resources from their sector, or not providing enough aid to what their sector needed.
Tomorrow is New Year's eve, and the onset of two days for feasting, prayer and/or recreation, depending on personal preferences. A week later the country will shut down for Yom Kippur. A few days after that the government and other public sector bodies will close for the week of Succot, and lots of Israelis will travel to the Galilee or overseas. Then there will be a day rooted in Jewish tradition of "after the holiday." It will be October 23rd before we reach "after the holidays," and work can begin. If nothing else erupts in the meantime, we may get to the details of whatever social reforms are on the agenda.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at September 27, 2011 03:19 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem