As we speak, antisemitism is on the rise across Turkey. A bookstore next to Istanbul University put up a sign that read “Jews are not allowed.” In Izmir, a synagogue was defaced with graffiti that read “murderer Israel.” There are reports now that many taxi drivers in Turkey are unwilling to serve Israelis. These are only a few of many recently reported antisemitic incidents.
All of these incidents took place after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to Hamas as a “liberation group,” despite the terror organization’s horrific Oct. 7 massacre. Erdogan’s statement prompted Israel to withdraw its diplomatic staff from Turkey.
After the Mavi Marmara affair in 2010, many Israelis wanted Turkish-Israeli relations to come to an end. After recent developments, there are probably just as many who feel the same. Nonetheless, it is not advisable for Israel to give up on the Turkish-Israeli relationship.
Turkey and Israel have many shared political and economic interests. Everyone knows this, including Erdogan, despite his rhetoric. If Israel unites with the Persian Gulf countries and Turkey remains an ally of Iran, it would not serve Turkish interests.
Erdogan fears a reality in which all of the Sunni Arab states cooperate with Israel and he remains on the side of Iran. Thus, he understands that he needs Israel more than he needs Iran. This is why, before the war, he was in steering his policies towards Israel in a more friendly direction. Despite popular support for the Palestinians on the Turkish street, this underlying situation has not changed.
In this context, a country like Azerbaijan, which has no history of antisemitism and enjoys a positive relationship with both Israel and Turkey, can serve as a mediator between the two countries. It could dissuade Erdogan from following through on his anti-Israel bravado and persuade him to stay out of the Gaza crisis. Azerbaijani mediation played a major role in the pre-war reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. So, why could it not do so again?
It is in Azerbaijan’s interest to improve the relationship between Turkey and Israel. Enmity between the two countries puts Azerbaijan in an uncomfortable position because it enjoys a strong military, political, strategic and economic relationship with both Turkey and Israel.
Azerbaijan provides Israel with 40% of its energy needs and gets more than 60% of its weapons from the Jewish state. On top of that, Azerbaijan has a flourishing 30,000-member Jewish community that greatly values the Azerbaijani-Israeli friendship. Good relations between the Jewish and the Azerbaijani peoples is centuries old and a model of what flourishing Muslim-Jewish relations can look like.
Moreover, as Rabbi Shmuel Simantov stated in an interview, Azerbaijan is also very close to Turkey.
“First of all,” he said, “the president of Azerbaijan and the president of Turkey are close friends, like brothers. Thus, Azerbaijan can help a lot. Aside from that, there are many other things that can be utilized to improve the relationship. The Turks and Azeris view the Jews to be loyal people. Antisemitism is not inherently a part of the culture. That is why it is easy for Israel to make peace with Turkey. The diaspora of Turks and the Azerbaijan diaspora influence each other all over the world.”
Thus, there is reason to hope that Azerbaijan can once again mend Israeli-Turkish relations, leading to a return of the pre-war rapprochement between the two countries.
Ayoob Kara served as Israel’s minister of communications.