Preparations for President Tayyip Erdoğan’s working visit to Germany on November 17 have been underway for months. It was hoped that the invitation made by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in his congratulatory phone call after Erdoğan’s re-election on May 28 would bring a breath of fresh air not only to Turkey-Germany relations but also to Turkey-European Union relations.
Especially in economic relations, efforts were being made to further develop the trade volume, which exceeded 41 billion dollars in 2021. On the eve of the trip, on November 15, the Turkey-Germany Business and Investment Forum, which brings together investors from both countries, convened in Gaziantep.
Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, in retaliation for Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel in which civilians were killed, changed the mood. Especially in the last few days, Erdogan and Scholz’s mutual outbursts on the issue have turned into a duel of words, escalating political tensions ahead of the visit.
Erdoğan and Scholz’s duel of words
The day after the Al Ahli Arab Baptist hospital in Gaza was hit on October 17, killing hundreds of Palestinians, Scholz’s visit to Israel and his joint press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in which he said that raids targeting civilians were within Israel’s right to defend itself, marked a turning point. Germany had earlier on October 12 offered military aid to Israel “for its self-defense”; Germany ranks second in arms sales to Israel with 15 percent, behind the US with 82 percent.
On October 20, Erdoğan said that Israel was “acting like an organization, not like a state” and called on all states and international organizations to work for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Ankara was also disappointed when Scholz rejected a ceasefire proposal of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the EU leaders’ summit on October 25. “Hamas is not a terrorist organization, it is a resistance organization,” Erdoğan said the same day.
Israel or Hamas?
“I will not name names,” Erdoğan said on November 4, “A German politician, with whom I am very close, says ‘we have a debt’. The Holocaust. Now they are paying for it.” Erdoğan attributed Germany’s, and the West’s in general, unconditional support for Israel to a guilt complex over the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews before and during the Second World War, simply because they were Jews.
The duel of words between the two leaders reached a new level ahead of the November 17 meeting in Berlin when Scholz targeted Erdoğan on November 14. In response to a journalist’s question, the German Chancellor said: “Israel is a democracy and a country that is bound to human rights and international law and acts accordingly. Therefore, the accusations against Israel are absurd.”
While it was true that Israel was a democracy, the fact that it was a country that “adheres to and acts in accordance with human rights and international law” did not coincide with its decades-long policy of oppression and siege against the Palestinian people.
“Israel is a terrorist state,” Erdoğan declared on November 15, while “Hamas were resistance fighters trying to defend their homeland and their lives against Israel’s occupation policies”.
Scholz’s “long list”
When asked what issues he would discuss with the Turkish President, the German Chancellor answered Hamas, Israel, the conflict in the Middle East, the extension of the migration agreement and Sweden’s NATO membership. For Germany, the increase in asylum requests from Turkey is also a problem; Germany wants to recruit qualified labor from Turkey, not others.
The reflection of this on the Turkish side is the shortage of Schengen visas. The withdrawal of German investments in Turkey. With problems ranging from judicial independence to freedom of the press piling up in Turkey on the one hand, and xenophobia and Islamophobia on the rise in Europe on the other, for Erdoğan and Scholz to talk about the need to improve Turkey-EU relations would be beating water out of a mortar.
Scholz said he had prepared a “very long list” to meet with Erdoğan. Erdoğan has a similar list. But will the Berlin meeting be overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas conflict? One more question for Turkey: will there be another crisis with Germany over Israel?
Will it be “friendly game”?
Erdoğan was supposed to stay in Berlin on the evening of November 17 and watch the “friendly game” between the Turkish and German men’s national football teams on November 18.
If he changes his mind and watches it, the crisis will not have deepened to a grave point, but it is no longer foreseen.