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What David Cameron Doesn't Know About Turkey

Turkey is sponsoring the jihadists, not guarding against them.

3:10 PM, Jul 29, 2010 • By MICHAEL WEISS
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Who said this?

Hamas are resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land. They have won an election. I have told this to U.S. officials ... I do not accept Hamas as a terrorist organization.  I think the same today.  They are defending their land.

That would be Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before an exultant crowd a few weeks ago in the city of Konya as a newly decorated defender of regional Islamism. This is the man whom David Cameron was out to please the other day when, in a speech delivered in Ankara, he referred to Gaza as a “prison camp,” assailed Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara as “completely unacceptable,” and insisted that despite the aura of hopelessness now clinging to Turkey’s agonized bid to join the European Union, it must join it whatever the grumblings from Germany and France.  Brutal occupation of Cyprus, subjugation of a Kurdish minority in everything from politics to linguistics, and ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide are evidently Maastricht-compatible initiatives to the new British prime minister, considered even by his support base not to “do” foreign policy so terribly well.

That didn’t stop a fellow Conservative, MEP Daniel Hannan, from encouraging Cameron’s Obama-like overture to an increasingly hostile and subversive ally: “Cameron's reasons for backing Ankara's bid for EU membership are solidly Tory: Turkey guarded Europe's flank against the Bolshevists for three generations, and may one day be called on to do the same against the jihadis.” 

Except that Turkey is sponsoring the jihadists, not guarding against them—a fact which ought to have been clear to Cameron in the post-script news coverage to the flotilla crisis. The best look into Turkey’s turn toward radicalism has been provided by independent Turkish journalists who have for months been arguing that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is leading the country into the asphyxiating embrace of the East. The Islamist “lite” party, which won power in 2002, used to adhere to a policy of “zero problems with the neighbors;” today it prefers one of helping the neighbors cause problems with the West.

Consider AKP’s relationship with IHH, the Turkish “charity” that was behind the well-planned assault of Israeli commandos on board the Mavi Marmara, a ship that, it always bears repeating, carried no humanitarian aid cargo whatsoever. (Its upper-deck personnel, on the other hand, were armed and individually loaded with bundles of cash yet no forms of identification. If not jihadist by avocation, they certainly dressed the part.) 

IHH, which was founded in 1992 and registered as a charity three years later, has undergone a series of transformations over the past two decades. It started out under the pretext of providing social services to the Muslim community (building mosques, helping orphans) but swiftly came under suspicion for being a liaison to al Qaeda. It has finally found a role it’s proud to own, that of being an Anatolian philanthropy for Hamas. (Ironically, Turkish authorities before the Erdogan era were the ones who did the most to scrutinize the NGO; so intense was the legal pressure brought to bear on IHH that it was even prohibited from contributing to Turkish earthquake relief efforts in 1999 and its funds were frozen in Istanbul by the then governor of the city.) 

Today, IHH is a high-profile affiliate of the umbrella organization, the Union of Good, which was founded by Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to establish Hamas fundraising fronts. In 2008, the Union was outlawed by the U.S. Treasury Department for “strengthen[ing] Hamas' political and military position in the West Bank and Gaza, including by: (i) diverting charitable donations to support Hamas members and the families of terrorist operatives; and (ii) dispensing social welfare and other charitable services on behalf of Hamas.” IHH’s financial dealings in the United States were consequently ended. After the flotilla incident, 87 U.S. senators wrote to the president urging him to go a step further and add IFF to the State Department’s list of known terrorist entities. The Europeans have been far more energetic and effective in this regard. Germany just shuttered IHH’s Berlin headquarters and this week it was announced that Italy’s Chamber of Deputies was lobbying the EU to categorize it as a terrorist financier.  If successful, Turkey’s candidacy to the EU, which Cameron so pines for, would be even more imperiled since the charity’s warm relationship with Ankara is now an internationally discussed issue.

One need only consider why AKP instructed its ministers not to sail with the Mavi Marmara in Istanbul: Why do that if there was not a felt enthusiasm within party circles to enjoin with a hardcore activist campaign with a taste for “martyrdom?”  As the New York Times reported recently, at least four of IHH’s 21-strong board of trustees are members of AKP, including Ali Yandir, the senior manager at the Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation, a subsidiary of which originally sold IHH the Mavi Marmara for close to $2 million.  Another trustee and AKP member, Ahmet Faruk Unsal, is a former MP who did in fact board the ship bound for Gaza in May. 

Plausible deniability of a working relationship between AKP and IHH actually became risible last January, during another botched aid convoy to Gaza that similarly led to violence—this time with Egypt. This particular attempt to deliver money and wares to Hamas had been co-organized by IIHH and Viva Palestina, a British charity founded by former MP George Galloway.  It ended in two riots—one led by Hamas at the Egyptian-patrolled Rafah crossing into Gaza, the other led by the convoy participants themselves at the Egyptian port city of Al Arish. Interestingly, Erdogan himself publicly endorsed the convoy’s objective and even dispatched his foreign minister to intercede with Cairo on its behalf.  Also, AKP wasn’t so shy as to prevent its politicians from getting their hands dirty this time: Five of its parliamentarians traveled to Al Arish to stand in solidarity with IHH and its British partner.  Among them was Hasan Murat Mercan, the head of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, not an oblivious or inconsequential posting.

Ankara’s efforts to facilitate the transfer of cash and automobiles to an internationally proscribed regime did not go unnoticed by the beneficiaries. Erodgan was praised by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in very fulsome language, which is accessible at IHH’s website: “Mr. Erdogan has become our voice and won hearts of all Palestinians. We began naming our children after Tayyip Erdoğan. The name of Erdogan has been immortalized in Palestine.”  Not an endorsement a NATO ally typically takes to Brussels, is it?

Most startlingly, in the last three years, Turkey has hosted seven conferences and fundraisers for Hamas whereas it never did before AKP came to power. The first one, in July 2006, was attended by Qaradawi, members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and was given the rather milquetoast title, “Muslims in Europe,” likely because it was funded and organized by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (this was before Qaradawi, who’d twice been invited as a honored guest to London by leftist mayor Ken Livingstone, had been banned from traveling to England altogether).  Another confab, “Jerusalem Day,” held in November 2007, called for “liberating Jerusalem through jihad from the Zionists.” And almost a year to the day before the flotilla episode, Istanbul was host to something known as the “Palestine Collaboration Conference,” which again legitimized violence against Israel and featured invited guests Qaradawi, the former Sudanese president Mushir Sivar Ez-Zehehb and Hamas’s spokesman in Lebanon, Usame Hamdan. One AKP deputy at this gathering claimed that Israel “commits genocide in Palestine.” Erdogan, in defending the current president of Sudan and indicted mass murderer, has recently claimed that Muslims are incapable of committing genocide themselves.

So if David Cameron believes that Germany and France are the ones acting hypocritically by challenging Turkey’s integration into Europe, how does he explain extolling a country that both loves and is beloved by one of Europe’s declared enemies?  

Michael Weiss is the executive director of Just Journalism, a London-based think tank that monitors the British media's coverage of Israel and the Middle East.

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