Israel has thwarted plenty of planned terrorist attacks that were cooked up on Turkish soil, but it is either apathetic about or unable to put an end to the flow of Turkish funds into eastern Jerusalem.
That funding has one purpose: Turkey wants to re-establish its grip on and control over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The Turkish cultural and nationalist awakening in Israel’s capital, strongly felt by the residents of eastern Jerusalem, is backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who as we know sees himself as a patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, the man behind the resurgence of the Ottoman Empire and the father of an Ottoman caliphate that will one day return to Jerusalem.
Erdogan’s partners in Jerusalem are members of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, who delegitimize Israel, and the former mufti of Jerusalem and current main preacher at Al-Aqsa mosque, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, one of the most radical Muslim religious figures, who has deemed suicide bombings legitimate and has prayed for the downfall of Britain and the United States.
A year ago, Israel Hayom ran an in-depth probe into the activity of the Istanbul-based Our Heritage Foundation in Jerusalem. Since then, a lot more Turkish money has been sent to the capital.
The group is headed by Mahmoud Demergi, and its mission is to preserve and renew the Ottoman legacy in “Al-Quds.” Demergi himself exposed the extent of his group’s work in an interview, saying that $40 million had been spent refurbishing 46 mosques and 70 apartments, and completely refurnishing apartments near the Temple Mount compound. Demergi’s group receives support from another Turkish quasi-governmental organization, TIKA, which also operates in Jerusalem. Since 2011, TIKA has been under the leadership of Dr. Serdar Cam, Erdogan’s former chief of staff.
The focus of Turkey’s activity in eastern Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. Turkey has its eyes fixed on the Temple Mount and funnels a lot of money into it. It wants to purchase influence and stature there, which is why it has been operating demonstrations by Turkish “tourists” in recent years.
Turkey’s cooperation with Muslim Brotherhood officials in Jerusalem has won it a lot of admiration in eastern Jerusalem. Turkish flags wave from storefronts, on roofs, and on the Temple Mount plaza. Turkish culture, language, music and food are becoming a prominent part of the eastern Jerusalem landscape. A large part of the dawah activities— charity and events for women and children—in the city are funded by Turkish organizations, and Erdoğan isn’t done yet.
The Turkish incursion into Jerusalem as a whole and the Temple Mount in particular is particularly disturbing to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, both of which seek similar influence there. Jordan already has official status on the Temple Mount, and its peace treaty with Israel, as well as a series of other understandings, has effectively made it Israel’s silent partner in managing the holy site.
There appear to be two main ways of blocking the Turkish activity in eastern Jerusalem: creating legal systems that will prevent Turkish money from being funneled into Jerusalem or ensuring that Israel invests much more money there. At least for now, Israel has done neither.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.