Daily Israel Report

Turkey Votes to be More Democratic and More Islamic

Hebrew U expert says Turkey's referendum made it more democratic, but also more Islamic, so relations with Israel will remain at their current low.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/13/2010, 5:24 PM / Last Update: 9/13/2010, 6:22 PM

This week's referendum in Turkey was a vote of confidence for Erdogan’s combination of democratic and pro-Islamic policies. The Turkish populace approved on Monday a major series of changes in the country’s constitution, removing power from the military and giving more weight to democracy, human rights, and Islam.

The 26 changes were approved by 58 percent of the populace, giving Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a shot in the arm and a good starting position for next spring’s national elections. The changes also give Turkey a great boost in its efforts to be accepted into the European Union, to which it applied back in 1987 and of which it is now only an associate member.

Though a EU official called the vote a “step in the right direction towards acceptance of Turkey,” it cannot happen before 2013, and some say not before 2021.

What does the vote mean for Israel?

“Turkey’s relations with Israel cannot get much worse than they are at present,” says Dr. Eyal Ginio, Chairman of Hebrew University’s Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies, “but in any event, Turkey knows that its relations with Israel are  important. They won’t get worse, but neither do I see them getting much better quickly.”

Speaking with Israel National News on Monday, Ginio said that neither the Islamic leadership nor the secular opposition support Israeli policies very much. “The decade of positive relations that began in the mid-90’s was essentially a deviation from Turkey’s generally anti-Israel nature,” he said.

Asked if the referendum makes Turkey more democratic or more Islamic, Ginio said there is not necessarily a clash between the two: “Turkey is a very unique model. The ruling party speaks mostly about democracy, but also is against the secular approach of separation of Islam from government; they feel that democracy and Islamization go together.”

Asked if Turkey has a religious majority, Ginio said, “It is very hard to know, and I don’t know of any studies or polls. But it is clear that Islam is becoming stronger in Turkey’s public sphere… It is important to know that in Turkey, unlike Israel, there is a very strong secular ideology that believes that secularism is an important value, and that Islam must be separated from the government. It was this group that lost in the referendum, but their power is still strong."