Wednesday, January 20, 2010
An ambassador is an honest man set to lie abroad for the commonwealth.
—Sir Henry Wotton, Reliquiae Wottoniamae 
Diplomacy is not always as its name suggests. For this week’s lesson in its niceties (or lack thereof) we are indebted to Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister. He essentially taught us that there is more than one way to skin a cat or, put diplomatically, to let another country know of your displeasure with what the other country has done. This particular row pertained to affairs between Turkey and Israel and found its genesis in a Turkish television series known as “Valley of the Wolves”.
The program began in 2003 and is reportedly filled with nationalistic dialogue and scenarios displaying Turkish success in the various conflicts depicted on the series. The series contains graphic scenes of violence and, according to one description, glamorizes the life of the Mafiosi and, if taken at face value, could be seen as glamorizing lives of violence. In that respect it sounds a lot like what is seen every night on American TV. The Turks are more sensitive to such things than Americans and have often protested the show and demanded that it be removed from the airwaves. Murathan Mungan, a prominent Turkish author and poet is quoted saying of the series: “I believe the team behind the series is openly racist, defends acting outside the law, promotes the mafia and portrays violent role models . . . in a manner that would not have been seen in Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy.” According to a description of the series in the New York Times, among other things the series shows Israeli agents and diplomats engaged in the business of trying to capture and convert Muslim children. It is considered particularly offensive because it is perceived as a way of feeding anti-Israel sentiment in Turkey.
The episode that gave rise to the lesson in diplomacy presented by Israel’s Deputy Foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon showed the series’ hero, Polat Alemdar, storming an Israeli diplomatic mission in order to rescue a Turkish boy who had been kidnapped by Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations known as Mossad. Alemdar kills an Israeli agent and justifies his action saying it is no different from what Israel does vis a vis the Palestinians.
Upon learning of the depiction, Mr. Ayalon summoned Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, in order to express Israel’s displeasure over the series. However, Mr. Ayalon was not content to issue a verbal rebuke. He also wanted to surprise Mr. Celikkol. He succeeded. Mr. Ayalon had, without telling Mr. Celikkol ahead of time, invited television reporters to attend the meeting. In the room in which the meeting took place were two chairs and a table. The table had the Israeli flag on it but no Turkish flag. The chairs were of different heights. Mr. Celikkol was seated on the lower chair so that he was forced to look up at Mr. Ayalon thus demonstrating, at least to Mr. Ayalon’s satisfaction, the superiority of Mr. Ayalon’s position. Mr. Ayalon wanted to make sure that no one missed the significance of the seating arrangement. According to the BBC, Mr. Ayalon “was caught on camera urging cameramen to note the ambassador’s low seating position. . . .” Speaking in Hebrew, which the Turkish Ambassador does not understand, Mr. Ayalon said: “The important thing is that people see that he’s low and we’re high and that there is no flag here.” He was also heard to point out in Hebrew, lest it be overlooked, “we are not smiling”. He refused to serve refreshments during the meeting or to shake the Ambassador’s hand. Pictures of the meeting showing Mr. Ayalon’s superior position were broadcast widely throughout Israel.
If anyone wondered how Mr. Ayalon attained the lofty position he holds, that episode provides the answer. Mr. Ayalon knows how to show the world who is who. Of course, his diplomatic triumph was not without its consequences. Such episodes rarely are. The good thing is one of its consequences was not the beginning of a war. Instead it was a continuation of the Ambassador summoning business.
The Israeli ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, was summoned to a meeting in the Turkish foreign ministry’s under-secretary in Ankara. According to the BBC, the two men were seated in chairs of equal height and Turkey expressed its displeasure with demeaning treatment given its Ambassador. It is not reported whether refreshments were served. The Turks demanded an apology. At first Mr. Ayalon refused and simply said in the future he would be more diplomatic. In response to the refusal, Turkey’s president said that absent a formal apology, Turkey’s ambassador to Israel would be withdrawn. Responding to the uproar that was growing louder, Mr. Ayalon relented and issued a formal apology to Mr. Celikkol. It was not reported whether Mr. Ayalon had his fingers crossed when he penned the apology.