Ahhh boycotts. Israel is used to them. If it’s not a call for an academic boycott coming out of England, the U.S., or even internally, then it’s an organized cultural boycott or a ban on Israeli films or products.
In recent weeks, as happens each year, a number of performing artists planning to give concerts in the country this summer — Elvis Costello, Santana, and the Pixies among them — canceled suddenly. Pressure due to the political climate in the wake , their PR people say. Following the Gaza flotilla incident, organizers of Madrid’s gay pride parade banned Israeli participants.
Israel is used to being the neighborhood pariah. Another boycott? Okay. What else you got?
False bravado and cavalier “I don’t care anyway” attitudes mask hurt. Being the perennial outcast — deservedly or not — is no fun.
So the opportunity to turn it around and boycott someone else for a change is almost refreshing. It delivers that “I’m getting mine back” feeling that maybe Israelis need as headlines hurl condemnation after condemnation and pending investigations hover in the background.
A spokesperson for a chain store said, in heeding popular public demand, the parent company intends to stop working with Turkish suppliers exporting flour and pasta to Israel. While the boycott comes as a reaction to the recent events, Israel-Turkey relations have been simmering for months.
Until recently, Turkey was one of Israel’s strongest majority Muslim allies in the region. But after Cast Lead, the timbre changed. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s public condemnation of Israel in the wake of the Gaza operation fanned the flames of anti-Israel sentiment and AK Party supporters have been eager to jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon.
So when the Turkish flotilla set sail for Gaza on a mission to break the blockade, the stage was set for a relations breakdown.
“If we thought that Prime Minister Erdogan could not make things any worse,” an Israeli diplomat was quoted as saying, “his support for the flotilla and his attacks on us … have made it clear that there is no longer any strategic alliance between the two countries. At least, not while he is in power.”
Pulling Turkey’s ambassador to Israel brings the country within anchor toss length of severing ties with Israel altogether.
But not one to retreat to a corner and shed proverbial tears over what has been, Israel started cultivating alternative regional allies more than a year ago. One of those being wooed: long-time Turkish adversary Greece.
The two countries announced joint air force exercises in late May to be carried out over the Aegean Sea. This would’ve been something Israel and Turkey shared in the past, but Turkey canceled collaboration after Cast Lead.
Israeli citizens are also not sitting idle. As a response to burning blue and white flags on Ankara’s streets, Israel’s citizens are wielding a weapon of their own: cancellation. In droves, Israelis are canceling travel plans to the 99% Muslim country, partially as backlash to the perceived act of aggression on the part of Turkey’s government and partially because they’ve been warned that it’s not safe.
Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau issued a warning against Turkey travel following the violent sea clash. Since then, there has been a “precipitous drop,” according to press reports, in Israeli tourists venturing across the bay.
This has the travel industry in a semi-panic, as Israel’s steady stream of visitors was a deep pocket of profit. As an alternative, travel marketers are trying to attract Israel’s Arab sector to the Aegean, but it’s doubtful they’ll succeed in filling the void. Until images of the Mavi Marmara began emerging, Turkey was Israel’s fourth most popular vacation destination.
Will a boycott of flour and pasta or a canceled cruise to Antalya really put a dent in Turkey’s economy? Will anyone on the other side even notice?
Doubtful. But for a nation used to being at the other end of the boycott spectrum, this minor curve ball thrown to Turkey certainly feels like a nice change of pace.