Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ha'aretz Strikes Again

If there were trading cards for Israeli generals, then the one for Avi Mizrahi – commander of the IDF’s land forces – would be a hot item in Turkey. For the last few days, Mizrahi’s name has been dominating the news in Turkey and been at the center of the latest crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations. According to a report in Ha’aretz, Mizrahi – who, like most generals in Israel, is far from a household name – recently said during a conference at a military base that Turkey should look in the mirror before criticizing Israel. Further more, Ha’aretz wrote:
He did not leave it at a clear allusion to the massacre of the Armenians and the suppression of the Kurds, but mentioned the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus as well. In response to [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's call for Israel to be expelled from the United Nations, Mizrahi suggested that Turkey should be paired with Israel on such an occasion.
In response to this, the Turkish government summoned Israel’s ambassador in Ankara for a clarification. More significantly, the Turkish military, which had so far stayed on the sidelines of the ongoing Turkey-Israel spat, issued a strongly worded declaration. "The comments have been assessed to be at the extent that the national interests between the two countries could be damaged," it said. Mizrahi hit the trifecta, managing in one fell swoop to touch on Turkey's most sensitive issues.

But just what did Mizrahi say? A closer reading of Ha’aretz’s article brings up more questions than answers. For one, the piece contains no quotes; it only paraphrases the general, as if the information came second hand. Secondly, there is this confusing line:
He did not leave it at a clear allusion [emphasis added] to the massacre of the Armenians and the suppression of the Kurds, but mentioned the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus as well.
Did Mizrahi actually refer to the Armenian and Kurdish issues, or was it the Ha'aretz writer who decided what the general was making a “clear allusion” to? (The original Hebrew version seems to indicate that Mizrahi “hinted” at those two controversial issues, but also doesn't make clear what he actually said.) Also, if the reporter was there, why no quotes? If the reporter wasn’t there, why not at least some kind of attribution, however vague, to explain how Ha’aretz came to find out what Mizrahi said? Was the meeting closed to the press? These are important questions that Ha’aretz’s piece leaves unanswered and really did deserve some attention from the paper, considering the article’s impact and the fact that the Turkish press and government are basing their reactions on Ha’aretz’s paraphrasing of Mizrahi’s talk.

Also interesting to note is how differently Turks and Israelis react to what a general has to say. Except for the chief of staff, most military leaders in Israel, Mizrahi among them, are fairly unknown and whatever they say has minimal impact, just another voice in a nation of talkers. In Turkey, when a general speaks, people listen. If the army comes out with a particularly strong statement, it can literally bring the house down. Deep down, the voice of the Turkish army is the voice of the Turkish state.

No comments: