The Turkish president is trying to use the fight over Jerusalem to present himself as the leader of a Muslim coalition. But his shameless rants against Israel are hypocritical and transparent, says Daniel Heinrich.
He's back: the rapscallion, the bully, the lout, the eternal political campaigner Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president was at his old game as soon as the conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) kicked off in Istanbul. He called Israel a "terrorist and occupier state," and invited "every country" to "recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the occupied state of Palestine."
Well-known expressions of indignation
Erdogan is angry. And he wants everyone to know it. It seems as if the Turkish president is ready for action once again after having taken a bit of a break from his customary tirades. Although he selectively accused Germany and the Netherlands of "Nazi methods" a few months ago, Erdogan seems to have returned to one of his favorite rhetorical pastimes: Israel bashing.
Of course, one can certainly imagine that Erdogan, who regularly puts his Muslim faith on display for the world to see, is genuinely upset by US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The historic city not only has special meaning Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well.
On the other hand, the same old "terrorist state," and "child killer" accusations against Israel seem rather robotic. And the rote, monotone fashion in which they have been learned and continue to be uttered makes them almost boring. Moreover, insults directed at Israel in the political arena come across as hypocritical for the simple reason that the volume of goods traded between Turkey and Israel has been growing steadily for years.
Still, Erdogan somehow can't seem to control himself when it comes to attacking the Jewish state. His performance at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was unforgettable. Seated next to his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, Erdogan proceeded to hurl insults and abuses at Peres on stage with the eyes of the world upon him. The testosterone-laden vehemence with which Erdogan insistently repeated the phrase "one minute"–in English with a heavy Turkish accent–before going on endlessly with his tirade became a YouTube hit long ago, attracting more than three million clicks.
Muslim states divided
Therefore it should come as no surprise that Erdogan decided to flex his rhetorical muscles ahead of the OIC conference, saying, "We will set the entire Muslim world in action at this summit."
Nonetheless, by the time the conference began, it was clear to all that Erdogan's words were utter nonsense. Only 20 of the OIC's 57 member states even bothered to send heads of government to the conference. Those of them that joined Saudi Arabia in its blockade of Qatar six months ago only sent low-level emissaries of the rank of "deputy foreign minister."
And in light of the Qatar crisis, who can seriously believe in phrases like "unity" in the Muslim world? In addition to the conflicts being fought out between the region's "big players" –Saudi Arabia and Iran–relations are also very tense between religious-conservative leaders in Turkey and military leaders in Egypt.
True to his motto "always make headlines," none of that seemed to interest Erdogan all that much. His message has always been clear, and it remained so at the OIC conference: Israel is a "terrorist state," an "occupying force," and on, and on, and on. That is just who he is: a rapscallion, a bully, a lout and an eternal political campaigner.