Erdoğan and Netanyahu, two sides of the same Imperialist Coin

Like many other left activists, I have been on the streets to show solidarity both with the Kurds, under attack from Turkey, and with the Palestinians, under attack from Israel. So it is disconcerting and depressing to get comments from Zionists supporting my posts on the Kurds, and to see pro-Palestinian Facebook friends welcoming Turkish President Erdoğan’s autocracy. It is also understandable, because this is precisely what the Turkish and Israeli leaders have orchestrated. 

Erdoğan wants to be seen as the leader of the Muslim world. Overt support for the Palestinian cause is an essential part of this, as well as a vote winner at home. But, as the Co-Chair of the leftist, pro-Kurdish, People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has pointed out,[1] for this to be more than mere propaganda, Erdoğan’s government should end Turkey’s commercial, political and military deals with Israel. In his early years as Prime Minister, in 2005, Erdoğan visited Israel aiming to ‘build on trade and military ties,[2] and in 2007, Israel’s Shimon Peres returned the visit. Relations soured when Turkey condemned Israel’s 2008-9 attack on Gaza, and Israel accused Turkey of hosting Hamas recruiters. Eventually, in 2011, in a belated response to Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara (the Turkish boat that was part of the international flotilla against the Gaza blockade) Turkey suspended military co-operation with Israel and expelled the Israeli Ambassador. However, even then, Turkey’s foreign minister made clear that ‘Our aim here is not to hurt our friendship but to return this friendship to its right track’.[3] And, although a reconciliation agreement was not signed until 2016, when difficult relations with Russia left Turkey in need of friends, none of this hindered economic ties.[4] In 2017, Turkish exports to Israel totalled £2.52 Billion.[5]

This May, when Turkey again expelled Israel’s ambassador in a very public response to the latest attacks on Gaza, and called Israel a ‘terrorist state’ and Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu a ‘terrorist, Netanyahu was quick to point out Erdoğan’s even greater hypocrisy. He tweeted, ‘Someone who occupies northern Cyprus, invades the Kurdish regions, and slaughters civilians in Afrîn should not preach to us about values and ethics’.[6] This, in its turn, shouldn’t be taken as showing genuine Israeli support for the Kurds in Turkey or Afrîn – or for their avowedly anti-capitalist politics, which are an anathema to Israel’s neoliberal state. In both eastern Turkey and northern Syria (including Afrîn), the Kurds have developed forms of autonomous organisation based on ideas developed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan. Netanyahu has made clear that ‘Israel opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization’,[7] and their main concern when it comes to Syria is the elimination of Iranian influence.

The semi-feudal, pro-US regime in Iraqi Kurdistan (which operates a blockade on the Syrian Kurdish areas) is another matter. Israel has a long history of support for the Iraqi Kurds, though this has always been driven by Israeli strategic interests. In the 1960s, the Kurds were seen as a counter to the pro-Arab, pro-Soviet, Iraqi Government, and Israel provided military aid and training in alliance with the Shah of Iran. Israel continues to value the Iraqi Kurds as a buffer to Arab powers, and also to Islamic Iran; and Iraqi Kurdistan supplies a large part of Israel’s oil needs.[8] Netanyahu publicly supported the Iraqi Kurds’ ‘aspirations for independence’ in 2014,[9] and Israel was the only state to give open support to last year’s independence referendum. The Israeli Justice Minister explained, ‘A free Kurdistan should be established, at least in Iraq. It is in the United States’ and Israel’s interest for this to happen.’[10] Israeli flags were waved in Erbil, though, so far, it has not been in Israel’s interest to recognise Iraqi Kurdistan as an independent state.

Behind all the rhetoric, both Turkey and Israel embrace increasingly-blatant blood and soil nationalism, and they share a remarkably similar approach to the main ‘other’ ethnic group over which they attempt to maintain control, even though the underlying logic is different. Turkish nationalism accommodates the Kurds if, and only if, they are prepared to forget their own culture and subsume into the Turkish majority, while Israel insists that Palestinians are separate and inferior; but both countries are ruthless in their attempts to impose their dominance. Both deny basic rights and freedoms, including the right of self-determination. Both are quick to brand any and all resistance as ‘terrorism’, and to use this to justify brutal suppression. Both have no qualms about extending their classification of terrorists to include a whole population, and subjecting that population to collective punishment, including destroying homes and displacing long-established communities. Both carry out aggressive invasions under the pretence of defending their own borders. Statements put out by the two imperial leaders are often interchangeable if you swap ‘Kurds’ with ‘Palestinians’.

This similarity has long been recognised by both Kurds and Palestinians themselves, who have understood their shared colonial condition. So it should come as no surprise that the Palestine Liberation Organisation – especially its Marxist factions, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) – played a major role in training PKK guerrillas, and that thirteen PKK cadres lost their lives in the fight against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982.[11]

In more recent years, the PKK has moved from being a Marxist-Leninist liberation movement, to espousing grass-roots autonomy and Democratic Confederalism, based on the ideas of Murray Bookchin; but the main Palestinian leadership has abandoned its links with the left. The PFLP continues to promote a left agenda – and Leila Khaled was a guest at the HDP Congress in Ankara in February[12] – however, Palestinian National Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party follow a more ‘pragmatic’ politics, while Gaza is administered by Hamas Islamists who have no time for leftist ideas or those who propagate them. Abbas has developed increasingly cordial relations with Turkey, with Fatah’s only worry being Turkey’s closer relationship with Hamas.[13]Hamas shares Erdoğan’s Islamist ideology, and Khaled Mashal, a leading figure in the organisation, praised Turkey’s unprovoked invasion and occupation of the previously peaceful, predominantly Kurdish, canton of Afrîn in Northern Syria. Mashal declared that ‘Victory in Afrîn was a model of Turkish will, and God willing we will record heroic victories to support our Islamic nation.’[14]

Supporting the Palestinians’ anti-imperialist struggle is a very different thing from supporting Hamas. It is not only possible, but also necessary, to argue both for the Palestinians’ right to choose their own leadership, and against the organisation and ideology that many Palestinians have chosen. Most of us who campaign for Palestinian rights do not want to see an Islamic state. Hamas has no time for socialism or women’s equality, and it cannot claim to be anti-imperialist while acting as cheer-leader for Turkish colonialism. This is yet another example of hypocrisy

In contrast, the PFLP, the PKK and the HDP have all take a consistent anti-imperialist line on both Turkey and Israel (though it has to be acknowledged that the PFLP has a blind spot when it comes to criticising Saddam Hussein, who carried out brutal collective punishment on the Kurds of Iraq[15]). In February, Leila Khaled told the HDP Congress, ‘You are the voice of those who resist colonialism. I greet you on behalf of the fighting Palestinian people. We also raise our voice against the war in Afrîn’.[16]  And in May, as Israel attacked the Gaza protestors, the PKK’s message of support for the Palestinians recalled their shared history, and declared, ‘The alliance and the common struggle of the Kurdish and Arab peoples will play a historical role in liberating the whole of the peoples of the Middle East.’[17] The HDP Co-Chair also called for a ‘common struggle for peace’, and observed that what the Turkish Government is ‘doing against the Kurdish people, the Israeli Government is doing against the Palestinian people. When you are part of the problem in these lands, you cannot produce a solution.’ [18]

Solidarity with the anti-imperialist struggle and with the fight for a better future for the Middle East, means solidarity with both the Kurds and the Palestinians in their struggles against Turkey and Israel, and against all the other imperial powers competing for a share of resources and control. Whether we are in the Middle East or Scotland, we need the strength that comes from working together in mutual support.

 

 

 

 

 


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