There are times even battle-hardened journalists find overwhelming, and this is one of them.
The shooting down of the Malaysian Airliner over eastern Ukraine with nearly 300 lives lost; among them a former BBC colleague, was unsettling and upsetting enough. With Israel stepping up its cruel, indiscriminate attacks on the people of Gaza, this week has already turned into one of those unbearably difficult times to be following the news.
On days like this, we all need more reason, reflection and empathy. We want wisdom, experience, foresight and good judgement from our politicians. We long for them to act like statesmen and women and guide us through unpredictable, worrying times.
In Turkey where the public is rightly enraged by the Israeli aggression and concerned about the rising tension with their big neighbour Russia, the response of the Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan to both these current events have shown us once again that he is a shrewd politician and can rally crowds. But it has also confirmed our long-held suspicion that he is not much of a statesman.
Declaring Russia as the culprit that brought the Malaysian plane down with a missile, Mr Erdogan has become the first and most senior world figure to categorically point the finger at Russia. Not at Russian-backed rebels but Russia itself. He did that before an investigation was launched; before the black box was located.
On the subject of Israel’s brutal attacks against Palestinian civilians, the Turkish Prime minister was even more militant.
Of course he was totally justified in condemning these attacks in the strongest possible language and asking the world leaders to interfere. Turkey was right to call for emergency meetings of the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. People had every reason to take to the streets and protest the violence peacefully.
But the Prime Minister was wrong to claim that Turkey was the only country to raise its voice against Israel and it was now facing a “new alliance of crusaders”. His increasingly fiery rhetoric accusing Israel of “systematic genocide every Ramadan since 1948” was not only inaccurate but highly irresponsible. Coming out of the mouth of a prime minister whose own country, accused of committing genocide, fiercely contests the charge and argues against casual use of the term.
Will the world not ask how such a rogue country has been one of Turkey’s greatest trade and military partners for all those years? The latest figures from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) show that during the first six months of 2013, Israel was Turkey’s 24th-largest export partner, while during the same period this year it moved up to the 17th place.
Criticising leaders like Barack Obama and Angela Merkel without mentioning their names, Mr Erdogan mocked those that back Israel’s right to self-defence. “What kind of self-defence is this? Nobody dies from their side. People who are killed are all Palestinians, more than 240 people, including women, children and elderly. How can you say self-defence? They say Palestinians fire rockets. So what? The Israelis stop these mid- air and nobody dies as a result” he said.
Prime minister of a country that claims regional and global role in world affairs cannot turn a blind eye to Israel’s total disregard for the international law. Equally, no serious world leader could condemn one side’s violation and excuse or ignore the other’s. Indiscriminate rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas into Israel, targeting Israeli civilians, calls for condemnation and action, too.
The ugly, racist scenes witnessed outside the Israeli embassy and consulate in Turkey, prompting Israel to pull some of its diplomatic staff is another cause for concern. The presence of the governing party figures in noisy and threatening protests outside the Israeli diplomatic missions and the racist comments by some of the Justice and Development Party politicians did not go unnoticed. Ankara”s notorious mayor Melih Gokcek referred to Israelis as “representatives of the murderers, worse than Hitler”. It should be remembered that these actions contravening diplomatic conventions and accepted practices are taking place in a country whose diplomatic staff and their families have been held hostage in the neighbouring country Iraq, with no sign of hard-talking leaders being effectively capable of ending their captivity.
Irresponsibly whipped-up anti-Israeli sentiments go hand in hand with increasingly vile anti-Semitic language used by politicians and the media. Hateful comments are directed not only towards Israeli leaders but also against Turkey’s own Jewish community. Even though many are sharply critical of the Israeli actions, the Jews in Turkey are asked to apologise on behalf of Israel. Some are threatened with violence.
Instead of throwing fuel to the flames, Turkey should work towards an immediate ceasefire and join the international effort to prevent further violations of humanitarian law and loss of lives.
It is time is to be a true statesman, to find effective ways to help end suffering, to stop hate breeding more hate.
This post is also available in: Turkish