INTERVIEW/ Turkey- Israeli relations are not the same but the essence is there
The foreign editor for Channel 2 News of Israel, Arad Nir, was in Istanbul, to take part in the Food For Diplomacy; an initiative by Kadir Has Universitys Lifelong Education Center, in collaboration with its Culinary School, that blends food and diplomacy
December 4, 2014
Can you tell us about yourself? You work as the foreign editor for a TV network…
I'm foreign editor for Channel 2 News, which is the largest of Israel. I would say for better or worse, in order to be the largest one you have to be very attractive and we are attractive both to our audience, to opinion leaders, etc.
Aside from journalism, you have an interest in food. Can you tell us more about that?
I’ve developed an interest in Turkish food during my visits to Turkey from 2002 and onwards. During all my visits to the city I searched for a culinary guide or recommendations and I couldn’t find anything in print. The recommendations of my colleagues revealed to me an entire world with tremendous respect for food, which in any city with a history, serves as a cultural bridge. So I decided to write a book on Turkish cuisine. It is called ‘Hamisada Hagedola Ba’olam / The Biggest Restaurant in the World’ which contains a huge selection of culinary highlights from Istanbul.
Do you come across difficulties as a journalist in Israel in terms of presenting news to public especially on sensitive issues such as Palestinian issue?
I tend to claim that the Israeli media is the most liberal media in the world. Israeli media doesn’t concentrate too much on the Palestinian issue unless extreme things happen as recently they do happen. And the reason is that there isn’t interest among the public towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. When Israel is perceived from the outside, it is mainly the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This is not necessarily what is going on inside. There are many other issues on the agenda.
What about Turkey? How is Turkey perceived from Israel?
Turkey is a center of interest for Israelis. Mainly because we used to be such good friends .We had such a love affair. Recently it seems that the relationship has come to a very ugly divorce. The emotions are there on both sides. Israelis love Turkey, they long for Turkey, they miss the Turkish food, Turkish hospitality. Israelis have been trying to find other travelling destinations as an alternative to Turkey.
What can be done to build bridges between the two countries?
There have been a few initiatives to mend the ties. I think it came to a personal issue between the leaders. This is my feeling. There is certain distrust between Netanyahu and Erdoğan. After the apologies regarding
The Mavi Marmara incident, unfortunately Erdoğan kept on bashing Israel and Netanyahu for so many months. And consequently, Netanyahu was hurt.
We were about to exchange ambassadors and getting really close to reconciliation. And then the Gaza War broke out...
We weren’t about that close than we are today. The point is that in January the agreement over compensation was phrased.
The agreement for normalization was phrased before Netanyahu called Erdoğan except for one thing that is how much compensation they would pay. These negotiations went on too long. In the beginning the gap was very wide. Eventually both Erdoğan and Netanyahu decided to close the gap and they closed it. Afterwards Erdoğan made a statement regarding the upcoming agreement, in which he stated Turkey’s demands vis-a-vis Gaza. This switched on a red light for Netanyahu. He decided to act reluctant to sign it until he gets some guarantees from Erdoğan that he will not attack him or Israel after this agreement.
And apparently his prophecy fulfilled itself. Because during what happened in Gaza, Erdoğan attacked Israel as never before. Even in an unacceptable manner within statesmanship with the rhetorical use of Hitler analogies.
Coming to bilateral relations between Israel and the United States... Do you think there is a rift between the two countries?
The relations between Israel and the United States are good as never before. The problem between the two countries lies in the personal relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. There is a personality clash. Netanyahu doesn’t see eye to eye with Obama on many things especially in the Middle East, such as Palestinian issue, Syria, and nuclear negotiations with Iran. Netanyahu who sees himself as an expert in American politics, he is trying to bypass the White House through Congress, which is dominated by the Republicans. This infuriates President Obama. The whole set of values are totally different on both leaders.
But isn’t there a contradiction then? You say they have divergent interests, they are not on the same page concerning many issues but the relations are going very well.
The personal relations are terrible but the national interest is being kept.
How do they reach compromise?
They don’t reach compromise. They agree to disagree. Obama is gracious enough not to condition his support to Israel with his relationship with the prime minister. The Congress is pro-Israeli.
If I may project/apply some of this on Turkey-Israeli relations, diplomatic relations is worse than ever but economic relations, business is flourishing regardless of this rift between.
Still we are building our hopes around pipeline projects to mend the ties between Israel and Turkey. How do you see the future of energy cooperation between the two countries?
The pipeline project is a very positive incentive to merge the rift and to normalize the relationship mainly because it's a multilateral, million dollars project. Such big project needs external financing. And no bank finances when two countries are hostile to each other. In the meantime, Israel is looking for alternative channels to transfer the gas.
I don’t think any of the alternatives presents a viable option compared to Turkey. But there is a need to find a way to mend the ties. And at this moment, many people are mediating to strike a deal between the two.
Coming to the recent incidents in Temple Mount…Do you think there is a third Intifada on the way?
I think we are in the middle of the third Intifada. It’s a matter of definition and there's no doubt that Palestinians are frustrated. They have no horizons. They have no options. Nobody is talking about ending occupation; nobody is talking about any kind of solution.
In the previous weeks, the US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jordan. There was a glimpse of hope for a start of negotiations in a way...
In Israel no one was discussing the meeting in Amman. Kerry had some statements such as he was not giving up of the negotiations. But the Palestinians do not see any hope.
How about the Israelis? Do they have hope?
In Israel people hope for a solution but nobody is pushing for a peace process at the moment.
Apart for the sorrow, that people are hurt due to war both on Israeli side and on the Palestinian side, there is no motivation towards restarting the negotiations. You don’t see in Israel riots of people demanding peace negotiations from the government.
During the Gaza War, there were some protests...
Yes. During the Gaza War, there were demonstrations against the destruction of Gaza, against the war, even in favor of ending the war and starting negotiations. But once the war is over, no one even remembers that there is a war except from the Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering consequences of the destruction.
How do you see Turkey’s handling of Palestinian issues?
I don’t think it has to effect Turkish-Israeli relations in such a negative way. I tend to regret that Turkey keeps on commenting on this issue. By constant criticisms towards Israel and by taking the Palestinian side, it neutralizes its ability to play a positive role in this equation. Since Turkey has access to both Hamas and Abbas, it could have acted as a positive player.
There has been an ongoing discussion in Israel about the new law, which aimed at formulating Israel as a Jewish state. Eventually, the Israeli cabinet voted by 14-7 in favor of it. What is your opinion of this new law?
Personally there is no need to change the current situation. The law was good enough for 66 years. As foreign journalists, I can tell you that there are international media channels, which use Israel as a synonym of Jewish state, particularly in English and French media.... This always made me uncomfortable. When they use the term ‘Etats Juifs’ with Israel interchangeably I accuse them of anti-Semitism because there is no other country defined by the identity of its inhabitants.
Regarding the relations between Israel and Turkey, for many many years, after the Mavi Marmara, I was the one who preached that Israel should apologize and pay the compensation and leave the issue behind. I was and I still an opponent of Turkish-Israel relations. I think that Israel needs Turkey on its side of the world. It can’t survive without Turkey on our side. Look at the map.
Apart from appreciating Turkey as a whole I developed a relation to Turkish food to the extent that I even wrote a book about Turkish culinary culture and Istanbul as its shrine. During the years I have been walking looking through the streets of Istanbul, looking for my food establishment, things have changed. One time, I arrived Istanbul and went to Istiklal Caddesi to have a profiterol at Inci. Inci wasn’t there. I was devastated. It took time until they opened the new store, Inci.
I went to Istiklal again later on and saw a sign on the window ot the old shop saying "Turn to right, there is a new Inci." So I went to the new place, the profiterol is the same, the place is smaller. But the essence is there. I can adopt this changing reality to Turkey- Israeli relations. It is not the same as it used to be but the essence is there. Maybe we just need to find the signs and new location to get the essence back.