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The Spread of Antisemitism in Turkey

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On May 18, 2021, State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price announced  the following: 

“The United States strongly condemns President Erdogan’s recent anti-Semitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible.

We urge President Erdogan and other Turkish leaders to refrain from incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence. We call on Turkey to join the United States in working to end the conflict.”  

On May 17, 2021, President Erdogan had stated:  “They are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They only are satisfied by sucking their blood.”

In August, 2019, a video showed that antisemitism was no longer under hidden. Kindergarten and elementary school kids raised right arms to up and shouted anti-Semitic slogans, including “Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar death for Jews, death for Jews.”. A group of women, who were wearing black hijab, had brainwashed the children. 

Actually, this level of  antisemitism is new in Turkey. However, one indicator of its rise is that, according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Turkish citizens who think negatively about Israel is 86%, while the rate of those who think positively is only 2%.

The presence of antisemitism and anti-Americanism in Turkey are related to each other. According to the same survey cited above, anti-Americanism has increased in Turkey 73% since 9/11. 

In Turkey today, as those who focus on Turkish politics will recognize, antisemitism, which tends to increase daily, has no connection to Turkey’s history, beliefs, or culture. Until recently, Turkey’s territory has been  a safe haven for Jews. The Jews of Spain took refuge in Turkey in 1492 after their expulsion and Jews fleeing the Nazi genocide were also welcomed by the Turkish Republic. Moreover, Turkish history has no deep roots in anti-Americanism and  the US has long been an ally for Turkey against Soviet threats.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the influence of Khomeini, and the rise of political Islam have also contributed to prejudice against Jews in Turkey. Bolstered by Christian Arabs and Arab nationalists the Muslim Brotherhood’s intellectual publications provided grist for the anti-semitic mill, especially since the establishment of Israel.  Khomeini’s proclamation of the United States as the “Great Satan” and goal of re-conquering Jerusalem from Israel after the Islamic Revolution of Iran comprise another factor.  Besides, it should not be forgotten that the Shia Hezbollah organization had also put anti-Semitism at the center of its ideologies.   

In Turkey, another important channel was the anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric of Islamist parties led by Necmettin Erbakan, keeping the  Palestinian problem on the agenda and the holiness of Jerusalem for Muslims, all of which made a significant contribution to the development of opposition to Israel and the United States. The anti-Israeli and anti-imperialist rhetoric of radical leftist movements supported this rhetoric as well.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came to power on the anti-Semitic and anti-American grounds mentioned above, increased anti-American and anti-Semitism and led the opposition rate to the highest peak in history. Between 2000 and 2009, the U.S. favorability rate in Turkey decreased from 52% to 14%. “Strong animosity toward the U.S. continued to run deep and unabated in Turkey,” PEW Research Center stated.

In Turkey, as in other Islamic countries, anti-Americanism and antisemitism are two common concepts that are associated with each other and are often targeted to joint reactions. According to the PEW Research Center, anti-Americanism in Islamic countries, such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Egypt, had surpassed 70% in 2010.   

As well, the reactions to the United States include reactions to the Jews, the reactions to the Jews include the reactions to the US. For instance, in the Jerusalem protests in Turkey, the burning of the US and Israeli flags together and their trampling under the feet is the most obvious sign of this identification. As in this protest, most of the demonstrations were supported by the government. Local politicians, mayors, and mufti have led this protest. Nevertheless, I let you know that there is no differentiation between being anti-Israeli and being anti-Semitic in Turkey. Unfortunately, both ideas are identified with each other in Turkey. 

Credit: Hürriyet News Headline: Israeli and US flags burned in Kahramanmaraş)

The AKP and Erdogan have emerged in these three political and religious domains and have succeeded in transforming the anti-American and anti-Semitic character of these movements into a political movement. In one aspect, we can define the power of Erdogan as the power of demolition of moral values. 

We can explain the motives of  Erdogan’s anti-Semitic and anti-American actions as follows:

One of its main purposes is to develop relations with countries that are hostile to the US. Almost all of the countries that the United States have considered as “rogue states” are Erdogan’s close allies, including Russia, Iran, Somalia, and Venezuela. The Erdogan government, on the other hand, develops its commercial and political relations with these states and violates embargoes, overtly challenging the US. Since Erdogan has perceived the USA as a threat to his own existence he is also working to break the US’s effectiveness in the world. The fate of Saddam Hussein made Erdogan worry about his future. Because he, too, had similar ambitions as Saddam Hussein. 

Hispreference of currencies other than dollars in international trade and his desire to join alternative organizations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is aimed at breaking the effectiveness of the US. Even the ‘world is greater than five’ (referring to the permanent members of the UN Security Council) discourse also has an anti-American character.

Even when Russia annexed the historical Turkish territory of Crimea in 2014, Erdogan preferred  to ally with Putin as a counterbalance against the US. His search for equilibrium against the United States reflects Erdogan’s anti-American ideas. Erdogan and Putin’s negotiations have evolved to regular weekly meetings of the two countries. Although Erdogan, who had shot down the Russian fighter aircraft on November 24, 2015, called on NATO to counter Putin’s threats, he soon strengthened his alliance with Russia by making an S-400 deal against NATO. Both actions  were an attempt to break down the effectiveness of NATO and weaken the world’s largest alliance.

Erdogan’s second essential ally in the world is Iran. Erdogan frequently visits Iran and refers to Iran as ‘his second home.’ Iran and Turkey have a complete alliance against Israel even though their allies in the Middle East are in conflict. Reactions to the Palestinian issue from Iran and Turkey are similar. Another issue is that the US embargo on Iran was violated by Erdogan himself. Reza Zarrab and Halkbank cases in New York are the best examples of this.

“Prosecutors accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds.

They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer $20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the U.S. financial system.” Reuters stated on October 22, 2021.  

Erdogan’s alliance with Nicolas Maduro, the leader of Venezuela, is another example. Just as in Iran, Erdogan has also violated the US embargo in this country, and the issue has been the subject of an investigation. Thus, the civil commotion against Maduro was considered by Erdogan as a coup and his support for Maduro was renewed. 

Erdogan’s other allies are anti-American leaders who are no different from those mentioned above, such as Somali former leader Omar al-Bashir and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

On November 15, 2003, a suicide bombing was carried out in Istanbul at the Beth Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues. As a result of the explosions carried out by Al-Qaeda, 28 people were killed, and more than 300 were injured. These attacks indicate the significance of growing anti-Semitic attacks in Turkey. It is highly noteworthy that al-Qaeda could plan and carry out such an attack in a metropolis like Istanbul in the early years of Erdogan’s government. 

The year 2009 was a turning point in Turkey-Israeli relations. Erdogan had decided to disrupt relations with Israel and waited for the most appropriate time. The World Economic Forum in Switzerland gave him a good opportunity. At the held in Davos in 2009, Erdogan reacted to Shimon Peres and made an anti-Semitic speech; “Mr. Peres, your sound very loud. This is the necessity of guilt psychology. When the issue is killing, you know how to kill. I know very well how you killed children on the beaches.”  The lack of similar reactions in other countries, such as Russia and China, that violate human rights explains the reaction to Peres and Israel. I believe this reaction comes from anti-semitic sentiments. 

In a referendum held on September 12, 2010, Turkey appeared as a democratic country. On the other hand, it is the time when many things that are in Erdogan’s secret agenda have come into focus. It is also accepted as the year of the return to authoritarianism. Although the referendum had extended the areas of freedom, Erdogan has started to rebuild the old order by making a U-turn. Only three years later, Erdogan would say that they were wrong while making the democratization moves in 2010.

The Mavi Marmara (Gaza Flotilla) Incident is also one of the first steps of Erdogan’s dream of power. He had never intended to solve the Palestinian problem nor to take aid to Gaza. Contrarily, it was a move to violate Israel’s sovereignty rights and agitate Israel. It is an anti-Semitic action masked with aid to Palestine. Because of the prominent features of the issue, Israel lost its composure and made a military intervention to  Mavi Marmara which caused the loss of lives. This action has made the solution even difficult while it could be solved in a peaceful way. Mavi Marmara had set off with the certain support of Erdogan and AKP. According to ODATV, in a speech dated July 17, 2014, Erdogan said that I had allowed this action. 

With anti-Semitic discourses and actions, he provokes hatred against Jewish citizens of Turkey and Jews worldwide. For this purpose, Jewish-origin companies are targeted, and boycotts are encouraged by publishing lists. The news site called internethaber.com, which is under the control of the government, issued a list of Israeli products and called for boycotts, declaring that   products starting with 729 barcode numbers are of Israeli origin and should be boycotted.

The newspaper (Yeni) Akit, which is famous for its anti-Semitic publications, has also published a boycott list with the slogan, “Muslims who pay money to these brands are getting washed with the blood of Palestinian children.”  

Erdogan uses anti-Americanism in internal and external public opinion. He has declared a boycott against US-origin products such as ‘Apple’. Erdogan, who recommends Samsung instead of the iPhone, has also encouraged the use of the Turkish Lira instead of the Dollar. Erdogan’s propaganda has caused tragicomic events. Some people, who accept the words of Erdogan as a command, have destroyed their iphones. In fact, there are even some MP’s who participated in this campaign, as well as the burning of the American Dollar. The citizens protesting the rise of the US Dollar against the Turkish Lira have carried out demonstrations burning dollars. Turkey and Iran have agreed  to trade in local currencies between each other.   

There is a perception in Turkey promoted by anti-Semitic thinkers. If the term ‘Jewish’ is used to define a person or an institution, then it is mostly expected to have negative definitions or adjectives in the same sentence. For example, if a corporation is called a Jewish Company, it is implied that this company’s profit is used against Muslims. If one of the following definitions is used for a person “Jewish origin, Sabatay, Jewish, Mason, Zionist or Jewish servant”, it is implied that he is a person who works against the Muslims. These Terms are statements that Islamist politicians, journalists, and thinkers frequently use to cover their own anti-Semitic ideas. If they do not like someone or his/her ideas, they prefer to use one of these terms to name that person. 

A Turkish citizen called Erdogan a Jew and sentenced with 7,000TL for defamation by a court on November 5, 2021. Surely the citizen meant it as a slur. Unfortunately, the court didn’t rule that the man is guilty of defaming Jewish community by doing so but rather took it as a slur. This decision shows the reality of today’s Turkey.  

As a result, we can say that under Erdogan’s influence, anti-Semitic and anti-American discourses and actions are increasing day by day. Moreover, this disorder has the potential to go beyond the borders of Turkey and to support antisemitism as a worldwide movement. People who believe in Erdogan continue to spread these anti-Semitic ideas and actions all over the world.

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