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‘Tiny Chair’ Diplomacy Harms Israel-Turkey Relations

Israel's deputy foreign minister tries to humiliate a Turkish ambassador by sitting him in a smaller chair. Really.

by
Allison Kaplan Sommer

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January 19, 2010 - 7:55 am
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He should have known better. Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, wasn’t some young clueless local politician in over his head. One would assume that the savvy insider with an impressive resume, including a stint as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, would have a clear grasp of the rules of diplomacy.

But Ayalon’s clumsy and offensive handling of Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, in what appeared to be a deliberate decision to behave in a manner that flew directly in the face of diplomatic etiquette, gave Israel a black eye at a time when it didn’t need it. Ayalon further complicated Israel’s relationship with Turkey, a strategically crucial neighbor, at a time when the relationship between the two countries could not be more delicate.

Jerusalem Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon: “[Ayalon's faux pas was] the diplomatic shot in the foot heard ’round the world.” The incident was also deemed “a gut-wrenching blow to Israel’s dignity” by a columnist who called for Ayalon’s resignation.

What was his crime?

For the second time, a Turkish state TV production vilified Israel. Back in October, Separation depicted fictional Israeli soldiers deliberately targeting Palestinians and committing other gratuitously bloody acts. Back then, the incident was handled by the book — a private reprimand behind closed doors and a critical public press release, an episode that got minimal press and went away quickly.

With the airing of a second Turkish program — this one entitled Valley of the Wolves, and depicting Israeli intelligence agents as serial baby-snatchers — Deputy Minister Ayalon invited Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol to the Foreign Ministry for a discussion.

The meeting turned out to be a public ambush. Unbeknownst to the Turkish ambassador, Ayalon invited the Israeli press. Deliberately setting the ambassador up for humiliation, Ayalon sat Celikkol at a smaller and lower chair than the Israeli participants in the meeting. In front of them was the Israeli flag alone — no Turkish flag.

And just in case the reporters missed the slaps in the face, or perhaps mistook them for oversights, Ayalon made the snubs explicit. Speaking in Hebrew — so that the ambassador didn’t understand — he pointed them out:

Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair … that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling.

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