Ever since the Turkish republic was established, anti-Semitism has been commonplace in the political discourse and the media, as well as in government policies. Writes Ujay Bulut
Since Islamist terrorist groups in Gaza started indiscriminately throwing rockets on Israeli civilians on May 10, Turkey’s president Erdogan has been bashing Israel with anti-Semitic slurs. On May 17, for instance, referring to Jewish people, Erdogan said: “It is in their disposition that they are only satisfied by sucking blood.”
That hateful rhetoric, which fits the definition of classic anti-Semitism, prompted the US State Department to issue a statement:
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.
In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. State Department’s statement on Erdogan. “Anti-Semitism has never existed in Turkish society, which respects the co-existence of different religions and beliefs,” the ministry claimed.
That “there is no anti-Semitism in Turkey” is one of the major falsehoods most commonly shared by the country’s politicians on international platforms. However, facts on the ground – particularly the widespread hate-filled propaganda against Jews and Israel by several political figures, media representatives and intellectuals – say the exact opposite.
The article entitled “The Banalization of Hate: Antisemitism in Contemporary Turkey” by Rifat N. Bali, the leading scholar of Turkish Jewry, is an exceedingly informative source for those who would like to get an insight into the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Turkey.
“Anti-Semitism in Turkey is not a recent phenomenon,” writes Bali. “Rather, its roots stretch back to the founding years of the Republic and can be seen in a number of themes that have appeared at various periods of its history.”
The Republic of Turkey was founded by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his followers, otherwise known as Kemalists, in 1923.
“One goal of the Kemalist elites and intelligentsia who established the Turkish Republic was to nationalize the country’s economy,” notes Bali.
“Within this nationalization process, the country’s Jews, along with the rest of the non-Muslim population, faced discrimination, including exclusion from public service, since the Republic’s founding cadres viewed them as ‘foreigners’ to the Turkish body politic and society. For them, the true of the owners of the country were the ‘real’ Turks, the Muslim population.”
The first massive physical attack against Jews in Turkey took place in the summer of 1934 in eastern Thrace. The Jewish community in the region was shaken by a wave of well-organized violence that lasted from June 21 to July 4, 1934. The pogroms were motivated by anti-Semitism, particularly by anti-Semitic articles produced by pan-Turkic authors such as Cevat Rıfat Atılhan and Nihal Atsız, “who had, before the events, been given free rein to make crude anti-Semitic propaganda with no interference from the state,” notes Rifat Bali.
During the pogroms, the Jews in the region were targeted and attacked by Muslim Turks. Menacing letters were received, Jews were physically beaten, their shops were boycotted, their homes were raided and their properties looted. Some Jewish girls and women were raped. Many Jews had to flee from the region. Bali states that the perpetrators were locals, ordinary people, their neighbors.
In the one-party regime of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) government between the years 1923 and 1945,
“The Turkish satirical magazines were full of caricatures of the ‘Jewish merchant’: dirty, materialistic, afraid of water, hook nosed, a black marketer, an opportunist, and utterly unable to speak Turkish without a comical Jewish accent; in short, a similar figure to Jewish types encountered in Nazi iconography,” Bali states.
Attacks and pressures against the Jewish citizens of Turkey continued: In 1941-1942, for instance, the Jewish and Christian males — including the elderly and mentally ill — were enlisted in the Turkish military to force them to work under horrendous conditions in labor battalions. In 1942, a Wealth Tax was imposed to eliminate Christians and Jews from the economy. Those who could not pay the taxes were sent to labor camps, deported or their properties were seized by the government.
Turkey transitioned in 1946 to a “multiparty period” following the 23 years of single-party period of the CHP government, but public anti-Semitic expressions remained widespread.
“Whereas much of the previous hostility toward Jews had seemed to derive from the dominant Kemalist elites who controlled the national discourse, in the new, more open society, anti-Semitic expression became more visible within the Islamist and ultranationalist camps,” Bali notes.
Another important point is the repeated publications of anti-Semitic books in Turkey. Bali explains that:
The Turkish translations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Henry Ford’s The International Jew, which form the basic texts for anti-Semites the world over, are perennial bestsellers.
Today, anti-Semitism in Turkey is at such irrational heights that some public figures have “blamed” even Erdogan for “serving Israel.”
Among them is Abdullatif Sener, one of the founders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the deputy Prime Minister from 2002 to 2007, under then-Prime Minister Erdogan. But Sener and the AKP finally came to a parting of the ways because of some disagreements. Then Sener started intensely criticizing Erdogan for his policies, as well as for his “Jewish and Israeli identity.”
In an interview with the secularist Halk TV (People’s TV), which is known to be close to the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Sener announced:
The real role and the real duty of the Prime Minister Erdogan is – under the image of being Islamic and Muslim – to gain public support for Israeli policies while implementing these policies. So his duty is to make the Muslim enter the church.
The Islamist leader who played an enormous role in demonizing Zionism and Israel was Necmettin Erbakan (1926 – 2011), the founder of the National View ideology and a leading figure of political Islam in Turkey. Much of Erbakan’s worldview was about “exposing” the so-called “schemes” of Zionists and Zionism.
For many Turkish- and Muslim-related issues, from the demise of the Ottoman Empire to the economic problems in Turkey and Turkey’s accession process to the European Union, Erbakan said that the “evil” ideology called “Zionism” was to blame.
Dr. Can Kucukali explains in his book entitled Discursive Strategies and Political Hegemony: The Turkish Case the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish theories of Erbakan:
Erbakan claimed that an average Turk worked half a day for Israel and half a day for local compradors. On the price of a loaf of bread, he maintained that one third was paid toward interest on the national debt which goes through the IMF (International Money Fund) and the World Bank to Israel; one third was paid in taxes to subsidize foreign trade, and only one third went to the baker himself.
On foreign policy issues, National View also adopts a so called “anti-Zionist” view.
According to Erbakan, Zionists – who are according to him racist, imperialist, Jewish capital owners – are seeking to assimilate Turkey and extract Turkish society from its historical Islamic roots by integrating Turkey into the European Union. Israel, for Erbakan, represents a major locus of anti-Muslim evil in the world. The main intention behind integrating Turkey into the European Union, Erbakan contends, is to create a “Greater Israel.”
We can say that the anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric about the Jewish community and Israel did not start with Erbakan but it became institutionalized as a political ideology and propaganda method with him.
Anti-Semitism is a popular theme on Turkish TV as well. Bali gives two examples: “The extremely popular Turkish action series Kurtlar Vadisi (Valley of the Wolves) consistently portrays Jews in the most negative light, always evil and usually as cruel oppressors.”
The “Valley of the Wolves” obtained remarkably high ratings when it was aired from 2003 to 2016. Bali writes:
Another TV serial titled “Separation: Palestine in Love and War”, broadcast on Turkish State television (TRT) at prime time in 2009, depicted IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers murdering Arab civilians and newborn children in cold blood.
The predictable result of such an extraordinarily hostile atmosphere has been the demonization not only of the terms Zionism, but of Israel and Jew as well.
As Islamic scriptures – including the Koran, Hadith and Sira (the life of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed) – contain many violent anti-Semitic references, a large number of Muslims are theologically and culturally influenced by such teachings. As author Robert Spencer notes,
The Jews in the Qur’an are called the strongest of all people in enmity toward the Muslims (5:82); they fabricate things and falsely ascribe them to Allah (2:79; 3:75, 3:181); they claim that Allah’s power is limited (5:64); they love to listen to lies (5:41); they disobey Allah and never observe his commands (5:13). They are disputing and quarreling (2:247); hiding the truth and misleading people (3:78); staging rebellion against the prophets and rejecting their guidance (2:55); being hypocritical (2:14, 2:44); giving preference to their own interests over the teachings of Muhammad (2:87); wishing evil for people and trying to mislead them (2:109); feeling pain when others are happy or fortunate (3:120); being arrogant about their being Allah’s beloved people (5:18); devouring people’s wealth by subterfuge (4:161); slandering the true religion and being cursed by Allah (4:46); killing the prophets (2:61); being merciless and heartless (2:74); never keeping their promises or fulfilling their words (2:100); being unrestrained in committing sins (5:79); being cowardly (59:13-14); being miserly (4:53); being transformed into apes and pigs for breaking the Sabbath (2:63-65; 5:59-60; 7:166); and more. They are under Allah’s curse (9:30), and Muslims should wage war against them and subjugate them under Islamic hegemony (9:29).
So many people have been murdered or abused by those brainwashed by such hateful teachings. On November 15, 2003, for instance, Islamist terrorists with two trucks carrying bombs exploded the Bet Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul. Explosions devastated the synagogues, killing 23 people.
Five days later, on November 20, 2003, another group of Islamist terrorists detonated their truck bombs at the headquarters of HSBC Bank and the British Consulate in Istanbul, killing 30 people and wounding 400 others.
One of the perpetrators of the blast at the HSBC bank was Ilyas Kuncak, an al Qaeda member. His son, 17, gave an interview about his family for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. When the interviewer asked him how his family felt after the explosions at the synagogues, he replied:
There was not a big reaction at home. For it was done to the Jews. After all, the Koran tells us “do not befriend the Jews.” We did not like the Jews much. Actually, we did not like them at all. Nobody would if we told them about the situation in Palestine.
Jew-hatred is commonly manifested on Turkish social media as well: Many online articles or editorials in the Turkish press dealing with Israel, for instance, are filled with Israel-hating reader responses. There are countless internet postings that parrot the anti-Semitic propaganda of Turkish political leaders and authors. When a wave of fires began in Israel in November, 2016, destroying apartments and leaving many people homeless, the fires became one of the most popular topics on Twitter in Turkey under the hashtag “Israel is burning” (#İsrailYanıyor). Many Turkish Twitter users celebrated the fires, displaying their desires for murdering the Jewish people.
Successive Turkish governments have often repeated that Turkey is one of those rare countries in which there has never been a serious problem of anti-Semitism. According to the Turkish official narrative, Turkey has made all citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, equal under the law, and Jews in Turkey have lived for centuries within a tolerant environment. Facts, however, prove the opposite.
Ever since the Turkish republic was established, anti-Semitism has been commonplace in the political discourse and the media, as well as in government policies. And many Turks today do not even feel the need to hide their Jew-hating, racist views, either on the internet or in their everyday lives. Many Turkish political leaders and media representatives share the responsibility of infecting millions of Turks with the virus of Jew-hatred.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara.