Political relations between Turkey and Israel have been characterized by long periods of tension interrupted by relatively short periods of rapprochement. Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Israel. Despite the prompt establishment of formal diplomatic relations, the bilateral relations have never been trouble free. Turkey and Israel have been traditionally characterized as ‘Western allies’ grounded on their significant role in a region that is widely known for political instability. Relations significantly soured in the past ten years due to multiple factors, such as Turkey’s domestic politics, political rhetoric, foreign policy decisions and Israel’s policy against Palestinians. In the recent years, bilateral political relations have become strained following a series of incidents, especially the Mavi Marmara incident.
There is a strong idea that Turkish-Israeli relations are profoundly unnatural and paradoxical. This idea is reflected in arguments highlighting Turkey’s role as the first Muslim country to recognize the state of Israel. Bilateral relations are often presented as a security-driven unwanted alliance stemming from scarcity of alternatives; a forced relationship imposed upon a society represented as deeply hostile towards Israel.
This report challenges the pre-judgement of an inborn hostility of Turkish society towards Israel. Recognizing the need to pinpoint the problems that lie at the heart of Turkish-Israeli relations, this report offers a diagnosis for the issues between two countries and provides an overview of how these issues are perceived by younger generations in Turkey; thereby providing basis for more effective people-to-people programs fostering dialogue.
The report consists of five sections. It begins with a multi-layered overview of bilateral relations, which will draw heavily from previous literature that has been published. The second section will assess the perceptions of Israel amongst the Turkish population, drawing from the results of in-depth interviews. The third section will assess economic ties and analyze their overlapping impact on bilateral relations. The fourth section will present an overview of the societal impact of Holocaust education and remembrance activities within Turkey. Finally, the fifth section will focus on defining a positive agenda for Turkish-Israeli relations.
The data provided by the interviews with a selected group of young people in Turkey is at the core of this study. The limitations in resources and time at disposal has guided in the choice of the methodology. The second section of the study is based on 26 qualitative interviews structured around 10 questions aimed at evaluating the perceptions of Israelis, Israel and of Jews. The interviews were conducted in February-March 2016. The project team decided to interview university students including several new graduates. This participant group aged 25-30 year-old young adults will help shape Turkey’s future. For that reason, the project team aimed to capture the transformations that have been at work in the last two decades assuming that patterns inherited from the early 90’s were not applicable and adequate anymore to understand Turkish society. The project team adopted a monographic approach and could elaborate a profile of each respondent. Our two research assistants who conducted the interviews, Seval Kök and Mehmet Ilhanlı have a central role in the research. They selected the respondents within their social environment. Mehmet conducted interviews with a dozen students and new graduates that define themselves as religious and conservative. Most of the respondents are originally from Central Anatolian cities and some define themselves as Kurdish. Some are apolitical and active within conservative NGOs, the group includes sympathizers of the Gülen Movement as well as members of Justice and Development Party (AKP), and a sympathizer of the Milli Görüş. This ‘conservative’ group is all the more interesting because it can illustrate, to a certain extent from a sociological point of view, the electoral majority.
The students Seval Kök has selected for her interviews share the common characteristic of being affiliated with a political party. This group of respondents includes students affiliated with the Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP), Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as well as one respondent who defines himself as an anarchist. The majority of this group of respondents is originally from central and southeast Anatolia. The project team categorized this group as ‘secular’ as opposed to the former group of ‘conservative’ respondents to broadly define the groups of respondents.
The project team is aware of the methodological limitation of this research. For that reason, we will avoid generalizations and hope that our findings will help formulate new questions and restructure the debates around Turkish-Israeli relations by integrating fresh data and insights of Turkey’s young adults.
Pathways to a Common Future: Youth Perspectives on Turkey-Israel