Turkey stops all trade with Israel amid Gaza war; Biden warns on student protest violence

Turkey stops all trade with Israel amid Gaza war; Biden warns on student protest violence
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erdem Sahin)

Turkey stopped all trade with Israel as of Thursday, according to two Turkish officials familiar with the matter, adding to already high-running tension between the once-close allies over the war in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden defended the right to protest peacefully, but demanded that “order must prevail” as demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war have wreaked havoc on US college campuses.

Hamas was studying a proposal for a temporary ceasefire with Israel in a “positive spirit”, as international pressure mounts on the two sides to reach a deal and end a conflict that has shaken the Middle East. 

Turkey halts all trade with Israel over war in Gaza

Turkey stopped all trade with Israel as of Thursday, according to two Turkish officials familiar with the matter, adding to already high-running tensions between the once-close allies over the war in Gaza. 

The move expands last month’s restriction on some Turkish exports to Israel, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan steps up criticism of the Jewish state and tries to consolidate support among conservative voters at home.

Ankara hasn’t formally announced the suspension and it wasn’t clear under what conditions trade would resume. 

Trade between the countries was worth $6.8-billion in 2023, of which 76% was Turkish exports, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.

“This is the behaviour of a dictator who tramples the interests of the Turkish people and business community, while ignoring international trade agreements.” Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said in a post on X.

The Israeli government would work to create immediate alternatives for trade with Turkey by increasing local manufacturing and finding other suppliers, he said. Turkey’s biggest export to Israel in 2023 was iron and steel. Its biggest import was refined oil products, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. 

The move came a day after Turkey announced plans to join South Africa’s case at the United Nations’ highest court as a plaintiff accusing Israel of committing genocide in the Palestinian territory.

Israel and Turkey restored diplomatic ties last August after a decade of tensions and were exploring ways to increase cooperation until Hamas launched its 7 October attack on the Jewish state, sparking the war. The conflict has triggered a popular backlash across the Arab world and even in the US.

Erdoğan called Hamas militants “freedom fighters” and repeatedly criticised Israel’s conduct in the war, which health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say has killed 34,000 Palestinians. Unlike the US and European Union, Turkey doesn’t consider the group a terrorist organisation.

Biden warns against violence in student protests over Gaza

US President Joe Biden defended the right to protest peacefully but demanded that “order must prevail”, as demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war have wreaked havoc on US college campuses.

“There’s the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday, his first extended comments on the pro-Palestinian unrest at schools across the country. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest,” he added.

The demonstrations have posed a threat to Biden’s re-election bid, and the president faced mounting pressure to personally address them before his unscheduled remarks on Thursday. The president said the protests had not caused him to rethink his approach to the war.

The clashes have highlighted the growing discontent among progressives, young people and Muslim and Arab Americans over the war — and the deep rift within Biden’s Democratic party over his handling of the issue. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has increasingly become a drag on Biden’s political standing, opening him to attacks from both sides and with polls showing voters are losing confidence in his approach.

Pro-Palestinian encampments spread to at least 100 colleges in 30 states and Washington, DC, since protesters first erected tents on Columbia’s quad on 17 April.

Earlier: Students pitched tents for Gaza on at least 100 US college campuses

Biden on Thursday sought to strike a balance between what he said were “two fundamental American principles”, the right to free speech and “the rule of law”.

“Both must be upheld. We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent,” he said. “But neither are we a lawless country. We’re a civil society and order must prevail.”

Asked if the National Guard should intervene as some Republicans have suggested, Biden said, “No.” He also warned against anti-Semitic intimidation against Jewish students or threats against Muslims. 

“There should be no place on any campus, no place in America for anti-Semitism or threats of violence against Jewish students,” Biden said. “There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.”

University administrators have struggled to address the protests, facing criticism from donors and politicians on both sides of the debate. Some have lambasted what they say is a heavy-handed response to young activists and others accuse the schools of turning a blind eye to Jewish students they say are being threatened by anti-Semitic intimidation. 

Protests at campuses across the US have escalated in recent weeks in solidarity with students at Columbia University who were arrested after building an encampment that administrators say broke multiple school policies and intimidated Jewish students. The protestors at Columbia dug in following the arrests, eventually risking expulsion to barricade themselves in a building — a move that ended in a police raid on Tuesday night and the arrest of 119 people. 

The protests have been a personal challenge for Biden who will need to mobilise young voters and progressives dismayed by his support for Israel to bolster his chances in November’s general election rematch with Republican Donald Trump.  

Hamas says truce deal being studied in ‘positive spirit’

Hamas was studying a proposal for a temporary ceasefire with Israel in a “positive spirit”, as international pressure mounts on the two sides to reach a deal and end a conflict that has shaken the Middle East.

The Iran-backed militant group plans to send a delegation to Egypt “as soon as possible” to continue negotiations, according to comments by Hamas senior leader Ismail Haniyeh posted on Telegram on Thursday.

Haniyeh was speaking to Abbas Kamal, the head of Egypt’s general intelligence directorate. The Hamas leader also discussed the situation with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and the two agreed to continue talks with the aim of reaching an agreement.

Israel said it would only consider joining ceasefire talks if Hamas responds to the latest internationally mediated proposal for a temporary truce and the release of hostages taken by the group’s militants during their 7 October invasion. The conflict has been raging in Gaza for the almost seven months since, and much of the enclave has been reduced to rubble.

 Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas to quickly reach a decision on terms for a pause in hostilities, describing the offer as “extraordinarily generous”.

The US is seeking the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, alongside a pause that could pave the way to an end to the war.

Haniyeh stressed “the positive spirit” in which Hamas is approaching the latest proposal, and aims to reach an agreement “in a way that achieves the demands of our people and stops the aggression against them”. 

Saudi Arabia steps up arrests of those attacking Israel online

Saudi Arabia has stepped up the arrest of citizens for social media posts related to the Israel-Hamas war as the kingdom signals a readiness to agree to diplomatic relations with the Jewish state — if it commits to Palestinian statehood.

Detaining people for online comments — even those more than 10 years old — and restrictions on free speech and political expression are the norm in Saudi Arabia. Yet the recent spate of arrests is motivated by security concerns specifically linked to the deadly 7 October invasion of Israel by Hamas and its aftermath, according to Riyadh-based diplomats and human rights groups.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, and left many more in urgent need of food and health care. That’s triggered a popular anti-Israel backlash across the Arab world and in Western countries including the US, where violent clashes have taken place on university campuses.

Saudi Arabia and regional allies like Egypt and Jordan have been alarmed by the trend, fearing that Iran and Islamist groups could exploit the conflict to incite a wave of uprisings, said some of the people, who asked not to be identified due to the delicate nature of the matter. Memories of the Arab Spring more than a decade ago remain fresh among regional rulers, who are desperate to avoid a repeat.

Recent Saudi detentions have included an executive with a company involved in the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic transformation plan — a cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda — according to people inside and outside Saudi Arabia with knowledge of the matter. The detainee expressed views on the Gaza conflict deemed by authorities to be incendiary, they said. 

A media figure who said Israel should never be forgiven has also been arrested, the people said, as has an individual calling for the boycott of US fast-food restaurants in the kingdom. The people shared information on condition that neither they nor those arrested be identified.   

The Saudi arrests for Gaza-related posts indicate Prince Mohammed’s regime will take a hard line against citizens not toeing the line when it comes to normalising ties with Israel — a topic the kingdom was working on with the US before the events of 7 October muddied the waters. Riyadh and Washington resumed their talks on a defence pact and US cooperation in launching a civilian nuclear programme earlier this year, and, with an agreement close, Israel will be invited to join a three-way pact or risk being left behind.  

Since 7 October, Saudi Arabia has harshly criticised Israel for its war in Gaza and demanded an immediate ceasefire, while indicating it remains open to warmer relations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdraws troops and commits to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The latter outcome remains a distant prospect, however, especially while Netanyahu’s far-right coalition remains in power. 

A clampdown on pro-Palestinian sentiment on social media may be a sign Riyadh is serious about normalisation with Israel, said Jane Kinninmont, a Gulf expert who is policy and impact director at the European Leadership Network.

“If they want to change their policy and go and visit Israel and have Israelis come to Riyadh, when the war looks different, then they do not want there to be a kind of established pro-Palestinian movement that would be protesting at that sort of thing,” she said. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    One must not lose sight that Turkey is a Nato member and an ally to the weapon suppliers to Israel, the decision to openly support SA in the ICJ case and cutting off bilateral relations with Israel was not taken lightly.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Saudi Arabia is an oppressive government. The only reason this government is clamping down on anti-Israeli dissent is the fear of an Arab Spring.
    They are fluttering their eyelashes at their “bodyguards”.

  • Jean Racine says:

    I await Messrs Hoffman, Cronje et al, to tell us -without a shred of evidence – and be reported on unthinkingly by their Amen Corner in the media, that Iran/Hamas has paid for Turkey’s stance.

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