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Words do matter: Hitler comparisons call for consequences

August 05, 2014
tags:#Hitler comparison, #Israel, #Palestine, #Recep Tayyip Erdogan, #Shimon Perez, #Turkey
located:Israel, Turkey
by:Murat Suner
It is, and always was, a rare occasion to hear Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan saying something worthy of a serious debate – he’d prefer causing provocation and polarization. That's his political imperative. Once elected, Erdogan's understanding of democracy is either to ignore or to fight what doesn't fit into his agenda by means that one would barely call democratic. So to speak, democracy ends with the formal act of empowerment through the majority. The rest – respecting the separation of power, the minority, freedom of speech, the independence of media, the secular principles of the republic's constitution – are more or less obstacles in a self-determined agenda. How far will that go?

First and foremost, this has led to repression within the country, its civil society and its institutions. In terms of foreign policy, the most significant turn in his foreign policy attitude was his notorious "One minute" verbal aggression towards Israeli President Shimon Perez at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2009. After reassuring his democratic legitimacy through the last two elections, Erdogan's provocative words have become even more driven by tactical and polarizing intentions, dividing his audience into the good and the bad – inside and outside of Turkey.

Two weeks ago, campaigning for presidential elections, he compared Israel’s Prime Minister with Hitler, accusing Netanyahu of conducting ethnic cleansing before a cheering crowd in Istanbul. "Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target." His comments drew harsh rebukes from both the US and Israel, who accused him of anti-Semitism, but there weren't any further consequences. Now, on the eve of presidential elections, Erdogan has done it again. Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said late Sunday that the conflict in Gaza should not be an excuse for anti-Semitic slurs and attacks.

Looking into the complexity of this issue after decades of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, religiously induced resentments were always an ingredient to undermine the legitimacy of the "other", be it on the streets, on the battlefield or in political office. However, there are civil, diplomatic, political and military codes to solve problems regardless of whether words or weapons are used. One has the feeling that there is much more interest in conflict than in achieving a sustainable peace.

In Erdogan's case it seems to be obvious that his verbal attacks, using the comparison to Hitler, equal an incitement of people serving his electoral propaganda rather than contributing a serious argument to the conflict. Ironically, if one Googles "Erdogan and Hitler" the internet is full of Erdogan images turned into caricatures of Hitler. The cynical part of the story is that in 2012 a military schoolteacher was sentenced to one year in prison for likening Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to Germany's Adolf Hitler, according to Hürriyet Daily News. Regardless, Erdogan is using the comparison to fanaticise his voters, gathering them around him, and consciously taking into account what collateral damage this might cause.

Surprisingly, so far no countries have employed the diplomatic convention to call in Turkey's ambassador. Shouldn't that be considered as irresponsible as Erdogan's statement?

Article written by:
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Murat Suner
Co-founder, Managing Director, Editorial Board Member, Author
Israel Turkey
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
© Turkey Agenda
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
PM Erdogan and Israeli President Perez at WEF Davos 2009
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PM Erdogan and Israeli President Perez at WEF Davos 2009
Erdogan vs Peres World Economic Forum Davos 2009
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Women\'s protest against Erdogan\'s policy
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Women's protest against Erdogan's policy