Muslim Wire

Turkey and Israel spar over Turkish television drama about Mideast conflict

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 24, 2009

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey on Friday shrugged off angry protests from Israel about a Turkish television drama that portrays Israeli soldiers as cruel and repressive and has deepened tension between the Jewish state and its key Muslim ally.

The remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were the latest in a series of tart exchanges between two nations, whose close military and economic links have come under increasing strain since Israel’s war against Islamic militants in Gaza at the beginning of this year.

Davutoglu said Turkey is not “based on censorship” and that the state has no right to comment on the quality of broadcasts or the opinions expressed in them.

“The Foreign Ministry is not an advisory body for TV series,” he said a day after Israel rebuked Turkey’s acting ambassador, warning the series could incite attacks against Jews visiting Turkey.

The 13-episode drama is “Ayrilik – Askta ve Savasta Filistin,” which means Separation – Palestine in Love and War in Turkish, and tells a love story against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It appears on Turkey’s state-owned TRT television, which is allowed some autonomy under the law, including the right to form joint ventures with private companies.

Scenes in the series, which began Tuesday, include a soldier shooting a young girl, and a Palestinian man holding up a baby as he tries to cross a checkpoint – the baby is shot dead by a suspicious soldier. The next episode will air on Oct. 20.

“TRT is, above all, an autonomous institution and the company that produced the series is a private company,” Davutoglu said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who oversees TRT, said the government rejected anti-Semitism and did not intend to spoil “good relations” with Israel. He said Israel’s objections had boosted the show’s ratings, and that another 13 episodes might be filmed if the first series is a success.

“Is there anything in the series that is imaginary?” TRT’s Web site quoted Bulent Erdinc, the series co-ordinator, as saying. “It is possible to find photographs of what Israelis did to Palestinians on the Internet.”

Turkey’s Anatolia news agency quoted Erdinc as saying: “In the past, didn’t Nazis persecute Jews, the French persecute the Algerians, the Italians the Tunisians, the Americans the Vietnamese? Weren’t Muslims subjected to genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Films were made about these issues.”

Last week, Turkey cancelled a military exercise in which Israeli pilots were to have participated. The decision appeared to be linked to Muslim anger over the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

“Turkey cannot be seen as being in military relations with Israel at such a sensitive time, when there are no peace efforts, when peace has not gained momentum,” Davutoglu said. “We cannot ignore what is going on in Gaza.”

Israeli officials are also concerned about warming ties between Turkey and Syria, which recently held high-level talk,s and are discussing joint military exercises. Last year, Turkey hosted indirect negotiations between longtime foes Israel and Syria.

Media in Israel, where Turkey has long been seen as an ally and a popular tourist destination, have covered the friction extensively. The daily Yediot Ahronot reported that major workers’ unions had decided to cancel planned vacations in Turkish resort towns.

The paper quoted Yona Goldschlager, an official at the First International Bank of Israel, as saying that last year the bank took 500 managers to Turkey, but would not do so again.

“This time, because of the cancellation of the exercise with the (Israeli military) and the anti-Semitic TV series, we are simply erasing it from our map,” he said.

But not all Israelis were calling off their trips. Next to the article on the cancellations, the paper ran a photo of smiling Israelis boarding a flight to Turkey on Thursday.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Matti Friedman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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