Turkey: Boycott as a form of solidarity
This article was written in 2010 as a contribution to a BNC e-magazine commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BDS call in July 9th 2005. Click here to read other articles in the magazine.
Realizing the significance of the BDS movement as a strategy of solidarity with the Palestinian people against Zionist aggression, occupation, and discrimination, the BDS-Platform/Turkey was launched on the 27th of December 2009, following a protest march against the Israeli war crimes and ongoing siege against Gaza. The platform declaration was endorsed by numerous left wing political organizations as well as labour unions and occupational associations.
The initiative puts Turkey’s economic and military links with Israel at the centre of scrutiny.
Why Is BDS a Necessity in Turkey?
The history of Turkish-Israeli relationships dates back to the emergence of the Israeli state. Beginning with the first years of the State of Israel, the Turkish-Israeli-Iranian intelligence connections were maintained between Turkey and Israel after the fall of the Shah regime in Iran. Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Second Gulf War, in which Turkey was not directly involved but provided logistic support to the occupation, the military, economic, and diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel gained momentum.
In 1990s Israel benefitted from the false assertion of its willingness to make peace to promote formerly secret relationships to the level of explicit treaties and obtained a crucial opportunity to establish strategic and economic relationships under the title “normalization policies”. In February 1996 the first officially acknowledged agreement was signed allowing the use of İncirlik and Konya bases and airspace by Israel, and providing the basis for Turkish-Israeli common military drills as well as for the “Strategic Security Dialogue Forum”. In August of the same year a development project for the Turkish airspace technology was inaugurated. In 1998 there followed an 80-milion-dollar project for developing airplane rockets and the purchase of 100 K-I-50 helicopters from Israel.
Established and reinforced in line with the regional policies and hegemony of the USA, the relationships between Turkey and Israel have been promoted to significant dimensions through the developments in the domain of energy, water, and agriculture. In that domain Turkey meets to a large extent the needs of Israel as its most important ally in the region. From GAP (Southeast Anatolian Project) consultation and hiring agricultural land to water transfer projects and the already tendered energy line project, all cases of agreement and cooperation are of crucial importance for Israel. Economic relations and cooperation between Turkish and Israeli capitals including joint ventures in banking, technology exchange, GMO trade, tender invitations to Israeli firms, common free trade zones in the region and investments of Turkish capital in Israel have not ceased or lost intensity.
While Turkish governments were replacing one another the relationships between Turkey and Israel were not interrupted. During the coalition between Tansu Çiller and Necmettin Erbakan, Turkish-Israeli relationships were promoted to the military level. Under the Ecevit government the first of the “Anatolian Eagle” aerial exercises (suspended for two years) was held in Konya, central Turkey, with the participation of Israeli air force. Under the current AKP government the Turkish-Israeli relationships and especially economic relationships have reached a peak in accordance with the neoliberal policies reigning in both countries. The Turkish-Israeli Interparliamentary Friendship Group in the Turkish National Assembly was founded in the first year of the AKP government with the membership of 289 MPs, 183 of which were from AKP. The strong diplomatic relationships, of which the Friendship Group was an indicator, are in turn the foreground of strong military and economic relationships. For instance, the annual trade volume between Turkey and Israel exceeds 3 billion dollars since 2008. According to the official Israeli data Turkey is among the first 10 countries in Israeli external trade. Put in monetary terms, the Turkish-Israeli military relationships amount to about 1.8 billion dollars.
Growing Palestine solidarity demonstrations as well as the severe declarations of the Turkish government condemning Israel since the “Operation Cast Lead” indicate a change in the position of Turkey. However appearance and reality speak different languages. Turkish –Israeli intelligence relationships called Security Cooperation have rendered Turkish intelligence institutions more dependent on Israel. The first party of the Heron drones bought from Israel in context of military agreements signed by the Prime Minister Erdoğan of AKP in 2005 were delivered in March 2010. New agreements signed during Barak’s visit to Ankara in January 2010, the failure of Turkey to veto Israel’s OECD membership and the visit paid by Israeli officers to the military stations of Turkey along the southern borders upon the invitation of Turkey reveal different parameters in bilateral relations. The volume of trade between Turkey and Israel decreased from $3.435 billion in 2008 to $ 2.473 billion in 2009. However in that year a fall is witnessed in Israeli trade with all countries; the case is not an indicator of Turkish-Israeli relationships. In the first four months of 2010, on the other hand there is a 10 % increase in Turkish-Israeli trade in comparison to the same period of 2009.
Due to the role of Turkey in the region and the historical alliance between Turkey and Israel, the organization of an effective BDS campaign in Turkey with the aim of ending the military, economic, and diplomatic relationships is of particular importance. All relationships mentioned above are concrete targets of the Boycott campaign.
Our Perspective and Achievements
The first demonstration of the Platform after its declaration of launching on the anniversary of Operation Cast Lead was against the Heron deal. Two parallel themes were elaborated. One is the fact that the price paid by Turkey for the drones finances the Occupation, the Wall, and Israeli military power, which means the bullets killing Palestinians. The second theme was the common pool of intelligence for the so called “War against Terror” of both states. A protest demonstration was held in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul and the statement signed together with the Mesopotamian Social Forum was widely circulated.
The Initiative defines its domain of activity not only as organization of the boycott campaign in a narrow sense, but also emphasizes the mission of solidarity with Palestine and making the voice of Palestine heard in Turkey. Hence a number of protest demonstrations have been organized and statements have been published. Examples of such actions are the solidarity demonstration on 17th April 2010, the Prisoners’ Day solidarity messages to prisoners and their families as well as the sending of a letter of demands to the Red Cross and the issuing of press releases.
Due to the significance of PACBI within the BDS movement the Initiative –before naming itself and publishing its declaration- organized protests around the Leonard Cohen concerts in Istanbul, which were the last step of Cohen’s concert tour before his Tel Aviv concert. The first demonstration especially, held with materials sent from Palestine, had considerable repercussions in the media.
After its launching declaration the BDS Platform held meetings with branch organizations of the teachers’ and academics’ union (Eğitim-Sen) and discussions were started around the general principles of PACBI. Such formal and informal meetings have been helpful to establish contact with a number of academics.
26th June 2010 a press conference was held with Eyal Sivan, an Israeli director supporting BDS, who came to Istanbul for a festival of documentary films. In the well-attended press conference the necessity of the cultural boycott of Israel was also addressed.
Responding to the call from the BNC for the prevention of Israel’s membership to the OECD, the media and a number of individuals and institutions were contacted. The relevant information was also conveyed to the oppositional Islamic party (not represented in the parliament), which organized a campaign of its own about the issue. Alongside this, a number of MPs were informed about the issue so that a parliamentary discussion could be stimulated. Through various indirect connections the Foreign Ministry was also called to reconsider the case and a discussion did take place. On 22nd June 2010 a pres declaration was made in front of the Parliament and number of MPs were visited again in order to urge them to parliamentary action about the OECD issue in line with the unanimously approved statement of the National Assembly recommending the revision of the relationships with Israel in response to the Israeli bloodshed on Mavi Marmara. The talks with the MPs involved not only the OECD case but also the application of the National Assembly statement in all aspects.
On the day of the Mavi Marmara massacre a protest was organized in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. On the following days further protest demonstrations around Taksim were organized with the participation of a wide spectrum of left wing oppositional movements. The BNC call for an emergency BDS day of action on the 5th June, which coincided with the first day of our Symposium, was echoed by a demonstration at Taksim with participation of Palestinian and international guests of the Symposium and 2000 demonstrators demanding the severing of all relations with Israel.
Initiative considers campaigns against the disinformation concealing or legitimizing the crimes of the State Israel to be a necessary and integral part of its activity. Another objective is to promote a clear understanding of the basic aims and statements of the international BDS movement. On 5th – 6th June 2010 the “International Symposium for Boycotting Israel – A New Strategy of Solidarity with Palestine” was held with the aim of discussing and analysing the relationships between Turkey and Israel, their scope, trends of development and especially the critical or vulnerable aspects, which will provide guidelines for the choice of boycott targets and priorities. The Symposium brought together representatives of BNC, BADIL, PFLP, French BDS movement, BRICUP and J-BIG from Britain, with Turkish oppositional movements and intellectuals.
A parallel program on the Symposium days consisted of a number of meetings between the Palestinian participants and representatives of several political and labour organizations. Opinions were exchanged regarding the planned Boycott campaign in Turkey, concrete suggestions were considered and ways of supporting the Palestinian people and institutions were discussed.
As part of the European Social Forum, which will take place on 1st – 4th July in Istanbul with participants from Europe and Middle East, four different titles from the Palestinian and BDS agenda will be discussed with the representatives of the BNC, European movements of Palestine solidarity, the Haifa coalition, and Mesopotamian Social Forum
Talks with the relevant trade unions aimed at putting into practice the call by Palestinian trade unions to refuse loading and unloading services to Israeli ships and planes continue.
 See below.