By Sandy Tolan
News item: DAVOS, Switzerland—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey walked off the stage after an angry exchange with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, during a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, and vowed never to return to the annual gathering. (The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2009)
[Erdogan] was upset because moderator David Ignatius had permitted Peres to speak twice as long as the other participants and then didn’t give Erdogan much time to respond. (The panel was already overtime and dinner was waiting).—Blog of Stephen M. Walt, Foreignpolicy.com
Open Letter [Political satire]
To: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey
From: The Protocol Desk, World Economic Forum
RE: Last week’s unfortunate incident in Davos.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I write with grave concern over your impertinent remarks to the president of Israel at the World Economic Forum last week, which threatened to delay dinner for hundreds of extremely important global thinkers. I would like to make you aware that these leaders, many of them bankers who had to resort for the first time to flying into Davos by commercial (read public) airliner, had heard quite enough of your spouting off about Gaza.
It was bad enough that Mr. Shimon Peres was forced to respond to the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, who spoke of the “unacceptable” bombing to rubble of the United Nations compound there and the deaths of 1,300 Gazans. Making matters worse was your outlandish suggestion that this destruction in Gaza was excessive.
Why, sir, would you delay the arrival of the evening meal—in these times more than ever, mouthwatering culinary islands in a sea of gloomy economic indicators—by insisting on going on and on about the unfortunate children in that pris—I mean, territory, of Gaza? As the moderator, Mr. David Ignatius of the Washington Post, cogently pointed out, “We really do need to get people to dinner.” Amen to that! Very Important Stomachs were grumbling!
Moreover, the dinner required precise timing, as I have it on some authority (or at least my own speculation) that soufflés were to be served. Perhaps you are not aware, given the kind of ke-babby food that is served in your country, that timing is everything in matters soufflés. There is a reason that nearly every cookbook worth its truffle oil concludes its soufflés recipes—be it for Gruyère, smoked salmon, broccoli rabe, Caribbean crab, or for that matter apricot, amaretto with chocolate sauce, blackberry or frozen citrus—with this urgent admonition: Serve immediately. How could it be that you are unaware of this? After all, you of the temerity to apply for membership in the European Union do, by definition, lay claim to the title European—even though only a tiny portion of Istanbul lies in that continent, and the rest of your former “empire” is in the land of the Other.
I digress; back to soufflés. Now, even if those puffy delicacies were not served—and truth be told, they probably were not—it is beyond appalling that the leader of such an insignificant country as Turkey should exceed the one minute Mr. Ignatius generously provided you to respond to the courageous speech by Israel’s president, who pointed out that there was no siege in Gaza, that “Israel does not want to shoot anybody,” and that “the people in Gaza are not our enemies.” Indeed, this towering recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize generously offered, “We are in favor of restoring life in Gaza,” and even went so far as to reassure you, “We would like to see Gaza flourishing.” And yet there you were, insisting on rebutting Mr. Peres’ remarks with impolite discussion of the deaths of children.
Furthermore, I should like to categorically reject the complaints levied against Mr. Ignatius for trying to quiet you by placing a hand firmly on your shoulder. It may be true that he would have never laid a hand in this manner on Presidents Bush, Obama or even Sarkozy. But this sore-loser rhetoric is well out of line. The fact is, time was up! Mr. Ignatius, like any moderator of decorum, was being sensitive to the hunger factor in the audience, and wished to stop your rant before your narrative became too detailed. Just imagine the discomfort of the important thinkers in attendance had you pointed out the actual numbers of dead and wounded, or, even more inappropriate given the dinner hour, began citing the details of the November 2008 Red Cross report on the “devastating effects” of the so-called “blockade” in Gaza. (The preferred term is “to put the Palestinians on a diet,” as Israeli official Dov Weisglas humorously put it.) How dreary it would have been to listen to such a litany of Red Cross slogans: food insecurity, chronic malnutrition, progressive deterioration—etc. etc., ad infinitum, enough already! At least we can be thankful that you stormed off the stage before resorting to such wearisome details.
In conclusion, allow me to emphasize that if your nation wants to join the ranks of the civilized (read: European Union, with Israel as a kind of honorary member), it would be incumbent upon you to observe the rules of engagement in future Davos fora. I realize you have announced your intention to never return, but we understand that such passions of the East are quickly fleeting. You will be back, and when you return, please be advised to listen to the moderator, to keep your comments brief, and above all to remember this when evening approaches: We really do need to get people to dinner.
Sandy Tolan is the author of “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East” and associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.
AP photo / Alessandro Della Bella
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shares the stage with Israel’s President Shimon Peres at the annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland last month. Erdogan later stalked off after verbally sparring with Peres over Gaza.