ONLINE Only: Why Pick on Israel, Mr Cameron?

Britain should support Turkey’s European ambition. Criticising Israel’s policy on Gaza is not the way to do it

EU Features Israel Middle East
David Cameron and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Sucking up to Turks is a waste of time. Turkey has some of the smartest politicians and diplomatists around and hearing warm words about how right they are is pointless. David Cameron’s attack on Israel for turning Gaza into a “prison camp” in a speech in Ankara would not have impressed the Turks and rightly upset Israel and the Jewish community.

The Turks can hear language like that any day of the week from the flow of Israel-hating regional leaders who now flock to Ankara. What the Turks wanted from the new prime minister is concrete action to help Turkey realise its EU ambitions and for Britain to relax its onerous visa regime which makes it hard for Turkish businessmen, academics, students and the nation’s growing middle class to come to Britain.

But Mr Cameron has just imposed a protectionist upper limit on non-EU citizens who will be allowed to enter Britain. Since most of those visas will be nabbed by North Americans and the old, i.e. white Commonwealth countries the chances of Turks or many citizens of countries east of the Bosporus getting into Britain get slimmer by the day.

On Europe, Mr Cameron can offer even less help. As part of his Eurosceptic ideology he withdrew his Conservative Party from the broad alliance of centre-right governing parties in Europe where key leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Poland’s Donald Tusk, EU Commission and Council presidents, José Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy meet in conclave to discuss and decide EU policy.

Mr Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague judged this grouping to be too pro-European and instead found allies in ultra nationalist parties in East Europe to create a small European political grouping called Conservatives for European Reform. The Turkish ruling AK party has links of a sort with the main centre-right alliance.

In the past Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to present his Islamist party as a kind of latter-day version of post-war Christian democratic parties. There is something in the analogy but Christian Democracy has always accepted the Enlightenment settlement of separation of faith from state. It is far from clear that the AK party and Mr Erdogan himself understands and wants to practise this core element of European democracy.

Instead, there is plenty of evidence that the AK party sees Islam as part and parcel of what its politics stand for. Mr Cameron’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, described the Conservatives’ new allies in Europe as “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes” and Professor Rafal Pankowski of Warsaw University, Poland’s expert on nationalist, religious politics confirms that anti-Semitism and homophobia are core mobilising beliefs of this ugly politics in Eastern Europe.

Thus Mr Cameron cannot make the political case for Turkey joining the European Union as he no longer sits down in the same political family as the main decision-makers in the EU.

Both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have declared themselves against Turkey obtaining full EU membership and Mr Cameron himself has promised a plebiscite on any new EU Treaty which would allow Turkey to join. He knows that under current conditions the chances of Britain voting in a plebiscite to allow 80 million Turkish Muslims to live and work in Britain and the EU are not high.

This may explain why Mr Cameron sought to please his Turkish hosts with his attack on Israel. It is fashionable to blame Israel for the state of Gaza even though Israel dismantled all its settlements there nearly half a decade ago. But Mr Cameron might have mentioned Gaza’s other border which is just as firmly closed, namely the land border with Egypt. He might have mentioned the 8,000 rockets fired by Hamas and other Islamist Jew-killers from Gaza. When V1 drones packed with explosives fell on London in 1944, Winston Churchill did not seek to negotiate with Nazis. Yet when just as many rockets are sent from Gaza to kill Jews, it is the Jews who are to blame and Hamas to be understood, coddled and encouraged.

Mr Cameron might have mentioned the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group which, like Hamas, seeks to gets its way by force of arms. Mr Erdogan demands — rightly — the support and solidarity of the world as he deals robustly, at times ruthlessly, with the PKK. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan sits on an Alcatraz in the Sea of Marmora. Its political front outfits are dissolved.

Turkey has made great strides in meeting Kurdish demands for language and cultural autonomy and there are plenty of Kurds in the Turkish parliament. But like Hamas, the PKK wants the complete elimination of the Turkish state’s right to control its internal and external borders and that is a concession no Turkish democratically elected politician can make.

Mr Cameron might also have quoted the new Turkish opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. He is known as Ghandi in Turkey and there are high hopes that his leadership of the CHP secular opposition party may allow new space for non-Islamist politics in Turkey. He was critical of the Gaza flotilla which was a deliberate provocation aimed at creating precisely the violence which short-sighted Israeli military over-reaction turned into world headlines.

But Mr Kilicdaroglu has asked publicly why the Turkish government allowed this flotilla to set sail when it was clear it was designed to produce the result it did. To be sure, the death of nine Turkish civilians, the first time in decades Turkish civilians have been killed by foreign soldiers caused outrage in Turkey.

Israel might say sorry though it has taken the British government 37 years to apologise for the killing of 13 unarmed people in Derry during the IRA terror campaign. And Turkey has yet to say sorry for the deaths of Armenians at Turkish military hands in 1915. In the House of Commons, Mr Cameron’s deputy prime minister recently described the Iraq intervention as “illegal” even if Mr Cameron and most Tories voted to remove  Saddam Hussein and uphold UN resolutions.

The junior partners in the coalition, the Liberal Democrats, are riddled with anti-Israeli MPs with at least one, now promoted to the House of Lords considered to be openly anti-Semitic by Britain’s Jewish community. Mr Cameron went out of his way before the election to praise Britain’s Jews and to express support for Israel. His language in Ankara may be put down to naivety or inexperience though Foreign Office officials have never looked kindly on Israel and the new Foreign Secretary, William Hague, insists the British diplomacy has to turn to Gulf states and the Muslim nations of north Africa.

Britain and the new prime minister should support Turkey’s European ambition. But this is not the way to do it and lambasting Israel because Hamas keeps Gaza under its extremist control does justice to neither truth nor good politics.