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Erdoğan’s Palestine Rally: Anti-Western and anti-opposition rhetoric wrapped in a Palestinian flag
ATATÜRK AIRPORT — The number of people that tried to attend the AKP’s “Big Palestine Rally” was so high that not all of them could get a clear view of Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A few thousand watched the Turkish leader talk about the Israel-Hamas war on LED screens.
Among them was Osama Murtaja, a Palestinian from Gaza, who at that time hadn’t been able to contact his family for more than a day. He said in the years he had studied and lived in Turkey, he had always felt support for the Palestinian cause, but now he wanted Turkey to act.
“First of all, diplomatically. The Israeli Consulate should get the hell out of Turkey now. This is the most important thing for us,” Murtaja told Turkey recap. “We want something different to be done, something that will cause difficulties for Israel.”
He continued, saying he felt left alone as a Palestinian, and hoped the Turkish people and president would take steps to address the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“They talk about Hamas, but unfortunately the Palestinian people are dying right now. And people are just watching. All Arab countries are just reacting and stepping aside, but no one takes responsibility,” Muratja added. He had come to the rally with his wife, who was also from Gaza.
As the situation for Palestinians in Gaza becomes more dire by the day and Israeli bombardments continue, anger across the Muslim world is growing. Erdoğan organized the rally Saturday partly to express empathy for the aggrieved and partly to condemn the Israel government, which he called “an occupier”.
And while his tone on recent events sharpened during his speech, the rally was mainly characterized by rhetoric against Israel and the West, with some veiled punches towards the opposition.
Most attendees interviewed by Turkey recap approved of this messaging and were generally content with their nation’s current position on the conflict, with only a few expressing wishes for more harsh measures.
Shortly after starting his speech, Erdoğan not only lashed out at Israel, but also targeted the opposition.
“Just as Netanyahu is a terrorist, it’s said Hamas is also a terrorist. Shame on you,” Erdoğan said, in a statement likely directed at İYİ Party head Meral Akşener, who called Hamas a terrorist organization.
“There are miscreants and unfortunates who are unaware of this, and those in my country who vote for them should think well about that,” Erdoğan added.
Arife Köse, a doctoral researcher at University of East Anglia working on political speeches, told Turkey recap the president’s speech targeted both domestic and international politics.
“In the first part of the speech, it was about domestic politics, not only because he aimed at the opposition, but also he reminded the people ... this is also about us. This is also our existential crisis. So be aware of this, be alert and act accordingly,” Köse said.
The general messaging linked what happens in the Middle East to Turkey, Köse added, highlighting the following quote from Erdoğan’s speech as an example: “We are not only condemning the massacre in Gaza, we are also defending our own independence and future.”
The threats posed for Turkey were also prevalent in the second part of the speech, which was against Israel and the West.
“Who is behind PKK, YPG and FETÖ?” Erdoğan asked the crowd, which responded by shouting ‘America’.
“There is also Israel. Money, weapons. They give them. We know this, but my nation should know this very well, too,” Erdoğan continued. “We know very well the behind-the-scenes plots against our country from the European and American administrations.”
Köse said these statements essentially equate what Israel is doing in Gaza with what the PKK or FETÖ are doing in Turkey. In such a context, Erdoğan also positions himself as the leader that knows all the “games” that are being played in the Middle East. He is the one who sees all these connections, she added.
Yet Köse also recalled several May election speeches in which the president likened the opposition to the PKK, at some points even making use of fake videos to underline the connection.
Erdoğan’s characterization of Israel was the latest rendition of this trend. He said: “You are an invader, you are an organization,” using the Turkish word örgüt, which has the connotation of a terrorist organization.
The messaging resonated well with the crowd in attendance. Most people said speaking out for Palestine was their main motivation for attending the rally. Many also held positive views about Erdoğan's role and stance on conflict.
A recent MetroPOLL survey also shows that most respondents preferred a neutral stance or mediation role between Israel and Hamas.
“He's doing what he can right now. The President is in constant dialogue. I don’t believe you can do much more,” Halil Yüncü, who came with his family from Kocaeli for the rally, told Turkey recap.
Yüncü said it saddened him to see people who didn’t care or people who felt that Arab countries should manage the conflict.
“One hundred years ago, they were our citizens,” he said, referring to the time Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. This shared history was also addressed several times by Erdoğan during his speech.
Halil’s daughter, Kübra Yüncü, said her motivation for attending was the inaction and silence of others.
“I see this as a cause of humanity because many women and children are killed there. They are being slaughtered and killed and the whole world remains silent about this,” she told Turkey recap.
Still, Yüncü said such a rally would not have much impact, and suggested a boycott instead.
Others, such as İrem Bayraktaroğlu, proposed more far reaching measures.
“I think action should be taken rather than holding such rallies or constantly saying something,” Bayraktaroğlu told Turkey recap. “So I think our army should go to Gaza.”
Bayraktaroğlu also referenced chants from various pro-Palestine rallies in recent weeks that called for sending soldiers to Gaza. She said it was easy for her to say such a thing, and that the state would ultimately decide on this, but military intervention was also something her conscience wanted.
Bayraktaroğlu had come to the rally with Yusuf Emir Türk, a fellow student, and the pair were both involved with the AKP youth wing. Together they had also attended earlier protests, like a Starbucks sit-in to protest Israel.
They wished opposition supporters would have joined the AKP rally, though Türk said he would not attend a similar rally if it were organized by Saadet.
This might underline the polarization and politicization of the topic, since a large part of the country supports the Palestinian cause – not just the AKP supporters and Islamic organizations – but many groups and segments of society were not present at Saturday’s rally.
Reflecting on the divisions in rally attendance but not in the general Palestinian cause, Köse said we should look at the AKP rally in the context of the upcoming municipal elections.
“These kinds of rallies always play a role to underline the fact that he is still the leader of the masses in Turkey,” she added.
The timing – one day before Republic Day – and the location – Atatürk Airport – were also symbolic.
“This rally was about domestic politics and local elections and his leadership as much as it was about Palestine and international politics,” Köse said.
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