This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.”
Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East.
Consider, for instance, what Davutoglu actually told his countrymen via the press briefing quoted in Hurriyet. First, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that attacks other Muslim countries for no good reason: He didn’t bother mentioning that the reported target was a convoy ferrying sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization openly dedicated to Israel’s eradication. Second, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that makes secret deals with Assad, a leader who has slaughtered over 60,000 of his own citizens. Nor is this unusual: Officials from the ruling AKP party produce a constant stream of anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) incitement. Indeed, as we know from WikiLeaks, even former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey concluded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “simply hates Israel.”
Ignorance of this incitement has real consequences for U.S. policy. For instance, the Obama administration wasted copious amounts of time, energy and diplomatic capital in trying to effect a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation after Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. In reality, Erdogan never wanted a reconciliation; for him, the flotilla was a golden opportunity to downgrade ties with a country he loathed. Hence he rejected every Israel offer of apology and compensation; he also rejected the conclusions of the UN inquiry Washington orchestrated in an attempt to satisfy him. To anyone aware of the nonstop anti-Israel incitement Erdogan and his colleagues had been spouting for years, this outcome would have been predictable. But because American officials weren’t, they wasted valuable diplomatic resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.
Far more important, however, is that many U.S. policymakers still consider Turkey a reliable ally with common interests–and are then dismayed when it doesn’t act accordingly. For instance, Washington recently asked Turkey to intervene on its behalf should Syria use chemical weapons; Turkey agreed to accept the U.S.-donated equipment but refused to actually promise to take action.
Yet in fact, America has very little in common with a country that threatens to attack Cyprus (as well as Israel), extols a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, propagates the “Jews control the media” stereotype, and so forth. And most Americans would probably recognize this, if they knew the facts. But they don’t, and never will–because the media has decided that such details aren’t newsworthy.