Gizem Yarbil is a producer at Worldfocus and a native of Turkey. She blogs about a controversy over a Turkish television program.
Only a few days after Turkey excluded Israel from a joint NATO war exercise, a new crisis is brewing between the two Middle East allies.
The problem is a television drama series that Israel condemns as state-sanctioned “incitement.”
“Separation,” a 13-part TV series that aired on Turkey’s state-run television channel for the first time on Wednesday, has several controversial scenes. In one, a Palestinian father holds his new-born above his head in front of Israeli soldiers at a check point. A few seconds later, one of the soldiers shoots the baby dead. In another scene, Israeli soldiers kick and beat elderly Palestinians on the streets and one soldier shoots a teenage Palestinian girl on her chest.
Here is an excerpt from the television drama “Separation:”
The drama outraged Israel. The Foreign Ministry summoned the deputy chief of mission at the Turkish embassy to complain and protest. “Such a drama series, which doesn’t even have the slightest link to reality and which presents Israeli soldiers as murderers of innocent children, isn’t worthy of being broadcast even by enemy states and certainly not in a state which has full diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The coordinator of the Turkish drama replied by saying that none of the incidents in the show were “imaginary.” “It is possible to find photographs of what Israelis did to Palestinians on the Internet,” said Bulent Erdinc, the series coordinator.
The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also shrugged off angry Israeli protests over the show saying the Turkish state “has no right to comment on the quality of broadcasts or the opinions expressed in them.” This statement should be met with some skepticism as Turkey’s record on freedom of speech issues is not known to be very high.
The controversial scenes in the drama are subjective. I’m sure some people will think they’re simple propaganda and some will think them a reflection of reality. In general, Turkish films, especially TV dramas and soap-operas, do tend towards exaggerated melodrama.
But a broader question here is whether filmmakers should care about the sensitivities of those they depict. For example, should the producers and writers of the drama series “24” have taken into consideration the fact that their depiction of Muslim terrorists may have possibly led to suspicion against ordinary Arab-Americans?
The TV drama is airing on Turkey’s state-owned channel, TRT. This channel, according to law, has to be “autonomous and impartial.” However, since the Islamist-based ruling AK party came to power in Turkey, TRT has been criticized for its religious/conservative programming, and also for appointing party sympathizers. I think it’s quite possible that the government officials knew what this television drama, which has been advertised in Turkey for a long time, was going to entail. And I imagine they could foresee the reaction it would draw from Israel.
In that case, considering the already strained relations between the two “allied” nations, the question becomes, is the Turkish government interested in enlarging the rift between the two countries? And if so, what would this say about the future of the Middle East?
– Gizem Yarbil
For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.