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Turkey, Israel launch joint Parliamentary Friendship Group

‘Both democratic, both religious, both secular’

Turkey's Ambassador to Israel, Sakir Ozkan (L), and Israeli lawmakers Efrat Raiten (C) and Shalom Danino (Photo: GPO)

The Israel-Turkey Parliamentary Friendship Group, formed by Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, held its first official meeting on Tuesday in a demonstration of strengthened relations between the two countries.

Israeli lawmakers Efrat Raiten and Shalom Danino led the meeting, which brought together Israel’s Foreign Ministry Ambassador Isaac Bachman and Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel Sakir Ozkan Torunlar.

“I see tremendous importance for relations with Turkey, and we have a common interest in strengthening ties at the parliamentary level,” Danino said. “This meeting is the first step in strengthening relations between the nations.”

“I welcome this meeting,” Raiten added in his own remarks: “This is the first step in renewing relations between the two countries and I extend a hand to you for peace.”

Last year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara in the first trip to Turkey by an Israeli leader since 2008. Later, waiting for Israel’s November 2022 election results, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented, “We want to maintain relations with Israel on a sustainable basis, based on mutual respect for sensitivities and common interests.” 

While Israel’s parliament is among the most right-wing, religious coalitions of the Jewish state’s history, Turkish author Adnan Oktar noted in 2016 that both countries are democratic, both are religious and both are secular. In light of their shared characteristics, reconciliation between Israel and Turkey should be considered “in terms of the disorder in the region,” Oktar wrote at the time.

He wrote that the region’s problems include “Shi’ite-Sunni divisions … more pronounced than ever before,” Russia intervening in the Middle East, turmoil in Iraq and Syria and changing “balances” in Iran. 

A Turkey-Israel alliance could also serve as a barrier against anti-Semitism in Muslim society, Oktar wrote, pitching a bid to “win back those Jewish citizens of ours who have chosen to depart the country during these five years of tensions.”

In the decade before Oktar’s statement, 1,002 Turkish Jews immigrated to Israel, according to Israel's Immigration and Absorption Ministry in 2016, with the rest choosing other destinations. Around 100,000-150,000 Turkish Jews currently live in Israel, while Turkey is home to between 15,000 and 21,000 Jews, who live mostly in Istanbul and Izmir. 

The 25-person Jewish community of Antakya, in southeastern Turkey, lost its rabbi, Saul Cenudioglu, and his wife Fortuna, in the catastrophic earthquakes of early February. Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made a solidarity visit to Turkey following the devastating 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes of Feb. 6.

On Feb. 14, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu thanked his Israeli counterpart for extending support to Turkey. The day before, Turkish Ambassador Torunlar also expressed thanks to Israel at an official welcome of Israel’s SAR delegation to Turkey at Ben-Gurion International Airport. 

“The government of Israel was among the first to provide its team. I salute all who were among those who landed in the disaster zone and immediately started their task,” said Torunlar at the ceremony. “You saved 19 Turks … followed by a field hospital being erected in less than 24 hours and becoming operational.” 

The Turkish ambassador also complimented members of Israeli civil society and NGOs who had come to help and had “displayed exemplary solidarity with the Turkish people.”

The Kahramanmaraş earthquakes claimed more than 47,000 lives and left nearly 2 million people homeless. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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