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Confronting Turkish Anti-Semitism By: Rifat N. Bali
The Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs | Monday, August 17, 2009

One of the most illuminating methods of explaining and accurately describing present-day Turkish anti-Semitism and the reasons for its widespread nature is to examine the reactions among Turkish intellectuals and the Turkish press to various Israeli military actions in recent years. Surveying articles by Turkish columnists during Israel’s most recent military operations, the summer 2006 war with Hizballah in Lebanon and the more recent Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, will shed light in this regard.1 Particularly significant are those columnists who are considered opinion leaders, some of whom are academics as well. Understanding the reactions of these opinion makers, however, requires an overview of the attitudes of much of the Turkish intelligentsia toward what is known as the “Palestine question.” 

The Influence of Islamist, Leftist, and Nationalist Intellectuals In Turkey

The Islamist Community

Turkish intellectuals holding either Islamist or leftist positions have always taken a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance.

For much of the Islamist intelligentsia, references to Palestine, a former Ottoman province, bring to mind events from the last—and in their minds, darkest—years of the empire. These include Zionist leader Theodor Herzl’s request in 1901 from Sultan Abdülhamid II for permission to settle Jewish immigrants in this territory and the Sultan’s refusal; and, about a decade later, the presence of the Salonician Jew Emmanuel Carasso, a member of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP),2 in the delegation notifying the Sultan of his removal and exile to Salonica, where he would live out his remaining years in the villa of the Jewish family Allatini.3

Although these might appear unrelated events, the Islamists see a direct causative line from Abdülhamid II’s rejection of Herzl’s request to his later removal from the throne. In this view, the Young Turk Revolution—and more specifically, Abdülhamid’s forced abdication after the failed counterrevolution of April 1909—were payback, delivered at the hands of Jewish and crypto-Jewish cabals secretly manipulating the CUP.4 Nor, from the Islamist perspective, does the revenge-taking end with the Sultan’s abdication. They believe that the final stages of the retribution were the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 at the hands of Turkish nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), who originated in the “cursed city” of Salonica and is widely thought among Islamists to have been a Dönme, a descendant of the Jewish devotees of Sabbatai Sevi who followed him into a nominal conversion to Islam but continued to practice their own heretical brand of Judaism in secret, and the “placing of the Turkish people in the straightjacket of secularism with the intent of debasing it.”

Indeed, because of this widespread conviction a book by Soner Yalçın, a journalist for the mainstream Hürriyet newspaper, claiming in short that the Turkish Republic has always been dominated and governed by Dönmes has become a bestseller and sold close to two hundred thousand copies.5

The Islamist mindset views Israel as a “robber state,” which divested the Palestinians of their homeland. For the Islamists, Israel was born of a revolution that they see as Jewish-directed and carried out for Jewish aims,6 and both the secular Turkish Republic and Israel were established by the Dönme Mustafa Kemal. More broadly, the Islamists see Zionism and its political manifestation, Israel, as merely one branch of the overarching plan for world domination set forth in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the classical anti-Semitic work that has become a bestseller in Turkey among various conspiracy books whose main theme is Zionist domination of the world.7 Zionism, from this standpoint, is a satanic and expansionist ideology that threatens not only the Arab world but Turkey itself.8

There are several other complementary themes as well. One of these is the abiding belief that during the Conference of Lausanne following Turkey’s successful War of Independence, Haim Nahum Efendi, the last Ottoman chief rabbi9 and an adviser to Turkey’s delegation to the talks, somehow persuaded Ismet Paşa, the head of the Turkish delegation and future Prime Minister to promise the Great Powers that, in exchange for granting the new Turkish state’s demands, the Caliphate would be abolished and a secular regime would be imposed on Turkish society.10

Another Islamist claim centers on Moiz Kohen, a Turkish Jew and fervent advocate of Kemalism, Turkish nationalism, and the Kemalist regime’s policy of “Turkification,” which called for all non-Muslims and non-Turkish speakers to abjure their particular ethnoreligious identities and become part of the greater Turkish nation. Kohen himself Turkified his name to Tekin Alp and in 1936 published a treatise, Kemalizm, under this new name. Islamists believe that like Mustafa Kemal and Haim Nahum Efendi, Kohen was a “Shari’a-hating Jew.” As evidence they often cite the title of one of the chapters of Kemalizm, “To Hell with the Shari’a” (Kahrolsun Şeriat).11 The Islamists also hates Turkish nationalism which in essence is a secular ideology as they believe that nationalism is an ideology not compatible with Islamism the later perceiving all Muslims as one people (ümmet). For this reason they believe that Turkish nationalism with its secular character is dividing the Muslim ümmet. Again since Moiz Kohen was also an ideologue of nationalism Islamists thought that Kohen has “planted the virus of nationalism” within Turkish society in the hope of destroying the unity of the Islamic nation.

In the same line of thinking Islamists points to another Jew as another actor who promoted nationalism with the aim of destroying the Muslim ümmet. This widespread view—utterly without foundation—is that an Italian Jew named Lazzaro Franko, who as one of the period’s leading furnishing suppliers was a supplier to the Sultan’s Palace of Yıldız, donated $200,000 to the nationalist Turkish Hearths (Türk Ocakları) organization12 in the 1920s for the construction of their headquarters building in Ankara, in return for which his photograph was hung in this building.13 The connecting thread is that all of the actors involved were or are believed to have been Jewish. The Islamists use this as ostensible evidence that the sole obstacle to transforming the Turkish Republic into a Turkish Islamic Republic is the Jews, and particularly the crypto-Jewish Dönme who are believed to control Turkey behind the scenes.14  

The Left

Turkey’s leftist intelligentsia tends to see Israel as an “imperialist and expansionist state” and “an extension of American hegemony in the Middle East.” Hence, it views the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of “solidarity with those oppressed by the imperialists”—namely, the Palestinians.15

This view has its origins in the political and ideological struggles of the 1970s. During those years leftist militants who dreamed of carrying out a Marxist revolution in Turkey often joined the PLO so as to receive training in armed struggle, even taking part in attacks against Israel. Some lost their lives in the process or in Israeli counterstrikes against PLO camps,16 while others returned to Turkey.

Some of those erstwhile militants are now opinion leaders in Turkey.17 Just as for the Islamist community, for the Turkish Left Zionism is an aggressive ideology that fosters anti-Semitism. An illuminating example of the anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli sentiment is a special 2004 edition of the Turkish leftist journal Birikim that was devoted to anti-Semitism; it described Zionism and anti-Semitism as “two sides of the same coin.”18 In the same issue Ümit Kıvanç, previously a columnist for the liberal-leftist daily Radikal and nowadays for Taraf of the same tendency, wrote in an article that “the people who actually govern Israel are a band of rogues” and emphasized that “everybody who wants to be a member of humanity must work for the abolition of the state of Israel in its present form. Because the state of Israel has also captured the Jewish identity.”19 

The Nationalists and Neonationalists

Anti-Semitism in Turkey is encountered not only among the Islamists and leftists but also among the nationalist and neonationalist20 streams, which in recent years have declared their hostility to the European Union, the United States, and Israel. The anti-Semitism in this camp stems mainly from the popularity that Mein Kampf enjoys among its members as an “ideological handbook.”21 The Turkish translation of Mein Kampf has indeed become a bestseller in the country and can be purchased in some of the largest supermarket chains and bookstores.22 

Attitudes in Turkish Society as a Whole

Various Turkish opinion surveys in recent years indicate a rise in xenophobia. This hostility is directed at the United States and the West in general, but also at everyone who does not resemble the “average Turk” in appearance or behavior (blacks, immigrants, gays and lesbians, non-Muslims, etc.).23 A popular saying is “The Turk has no friends other than the Turk.”

Both Israel and Jews in general are also targets of this sentiment. A Pew Research Center survey of Turkish opinion, published in September 2008, found that 76 percent of Turks viewed Jews negatively while only 7 percent expressed favorable opinions.24 A similar survey by Istanbul’s Bahçeşehir University in April-May 2009, funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, showed that 64 percent of Turks did not want Jewish neighbors.25 In a 2003 poll by a group of Turkish academics in twelve different provinces, 63 percent of the 2,183 respondents held negative views toward Israel.26 

Turkish Intellectuals’ Reactions to the 2006 Lebanon War

The reactions of Turkish leftist, Islamist, and nationalist opinion leaders to the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah can be divided into four main categories. 

1. “Israel is not a legitimate state” and/or “Israel’s legitimacy as a nation-state is disputable.” This view is shared by a broad sector of Turkish society, and dozens of newspaper columnists express it. Each of the following three examples represents a different ideology.

Murat Belge, a liberal, left-leaning professor of English language and literature, a much respected pundit described the Israeli leadership in one of his columns in the left-wing Radikal as follows: “They are no different than any other racist-facist regime. But the international community is more tolerant in this case, and the extreme American support plays a very large role here. Naturally, we must not forget the very strong influence of the Jewish presence in Western societies.”27

For his part, Toktamış Ateş a professor of political science at Istanbul and Istanbul Bilgi universities, columnist for the right-wing Bugün newspaper, and a prominent public intellectual regulary invited to television debates, wrote that “although my antipathy for Israel weighs greatly, I also possess conflicting feelings and thoughts.” He then described Israel as an inherently immoral phenomenon:

There is no member of creation who can explain who promised these lands to whom, and why “they were promised,” or more correctly who could explain this convincingly. But people have renewed this dream again and again, and were able to exploit the Western world’s complexes or the world that felt no shame toward those who lived there before and during World War II to establish a state.... I have followed and experienced Israeli history at every step of the way. In part through the extraordinary assistance that they have received from the United States and sometimes through the influence of the Jewish lobby and from the states of Europe, as well as—and here we must admit—through their own efforts, they have “clung” to these lands. But to kick out those living on this land and to say that “this is the land that has been promised to me,” how human[e] is that? But when the first and most racist people in history says this and secretly receives its capital from [the world of] international finance, it sees everything as “justified.” And we cannot do a thing about it.28

For Yasin Aktay, a professor of sociology of Selçuk University (Konya), a columnist for the influential Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, and a popular figure in television debates, Israel’s legitimacy is the issue:

The insistence to return to places from which their ancestors had been evicted 2,500 years ago, is being transformed into a “right” in the name of the humanitarianism of the European peoples, as [their] atonement to the Jews. On this basis, the very existence of Israel is illegal, because there is nothing in any law today giving someone the right to acquire a land from 2,500 years before. Israel is opposed to secularism, because the reason for its very existence is founded on religious principles. Israel is contrary to history, because it is attempting to establish an anarchronistic life experience that is contrary to the course of history. It is attempting to return to the place from which it left, that is, to do something that won’t be [possible]. The establishment of the state of Israel is not the completion of this transformation, it simply shows that it overly forced the path to return, and in the end at the price of annihilating itself. Because of all these things, Israel is contrary to logic, to human rights and to democracy.29

2. “Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is no different than Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jewish people.” Turkey’s publicists and public intellectuals often claim that the state of Israel, which was established by an oppressed people who were subjected to genocide, has itself turned into the oppressor and is implementing a genocide and state terror against another oppressed people. Another variant is that “Even Hitler didn’t treat the Jews as badly as Israel is treating the Palestinian people.” These comparisons are frequently found among leftists,30 Islamists and nationalists, including politicians.31 Nuh Gönültaş, well-known columnist and conspiracy theorist for Bugün, goes even further to view Hitler as justified in his treatment of the Jews, since “the state of Israel is an even greater tyrant than Hitler.”32

Similarly, Abdullah Kılıç is a writer for the ultranationalist Önce Vatan and director of the Avrasya Bir Foundation, whose mission is “to research the economic, social and cultural values of Turkish society from a material and spiritual direction.” Kılıç noted “a gradual transformation of the antipathy toward Hitler that had taken shape within [him],” and called for “a renewed study of the reasons that this man went mad and a reevaluation [of Hitler] on this basis.” In conclusion, he calls for Turkey’s Jewish population to leave the country.33

A similar call was made by a Millî Gazete writer and poet, the Islamist İbrahim Tenekeci. Millî Gazete is the official organ of the National View (Millî Görüş) movement, founded in 1969 by the doyen of Turkish political Islam, Necmettin Erbakan. At anti-Israeli demonstrations in Istanbul, Tenekeci criticized the protestors’ posters that placed photos of Hitler next to photos of then-U.S. President George W. Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with the slogan “Hitler then, now them.” Tenekeci claimed that “We can fairly say that Hitler was more human[e] than the others [i.e., Bush and Sharon].”34

3. “Israel uses the accusation of anti-Semitism as a shield against its critics.” Those making this claim—and they are numerous in Turkey35 —argue that “Israel gains its strength through anti-Semitism.”36 A Muslim, it is alleged, can be anti-Zionist without ever being anti-Semitic, yet Israel accuses all opponents of Zionism of anti-Semitism.37

For example, Nuray Mert, professor of political science at Istanbul University, contributor to Radikal, and a well-known public intellectual, criticized the Turkish Islamist press’s anti-Semitic reactions to the war in Lebanon. Yet, she asserted, Israel “tries to pressure everyone who opposes Israel’s policies, whether in the Muslim world or in general [by accusing them of being anti-Semites].” In other words, even a Turkish commentator who was critical of anti-Semitism leveled the stock accusation against Israel.38

4. “The Jews control the American media and Hollywood, and constantly feature the Holocaust to stir up sympathy for Israel.” Turkish public opinion believes in a Jewish lobby in the United States that engages in closed-door intrigues, and the term “Jewish lobby” is widely used in the Turkish media. Just as in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—which has had great ideological influence on several sectors of Turkish society—the term is understood to mean “Jews who control the media, the film industry, and the world of finance, and who work to secure Israel’s interests.”39 It is assumed that all reports on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the U.S. media are biased in Israel’s favor, reflecting the influence of this lobby. 

There were other notable cases of fierce criticism of Israel by liberal and leftist intellectuals. At an Istanbul protest rally during the Lebanon war that was attended by artists, intellectuals, and political activists, the leftist Global Coalition for Peace and Justice,40 an antiglobalization and antiwar movement, used the slogan “Murderer Israel, Out of Palestine!”41 In their press releases, both leftist and Islamist human rights advocates declared that Israel “committed a crime against humanity.”42  

This sector’s most noteworthy reaction to the war, however, was the front-page announcement in Radikal entitled “We Accuse!” (İtham Ediyoruz)—a conscious allusion to Émile Zola’s famous open letter regarding the Dreyfus trial, “J’accuse...!” Radikal’s statement was directed at “G. W. Bush, T. Blair and E. Olmert, who are responsible for the imperialist, colonialist and aggressive policies of the coalition of the U.S., Great Britain and Israel.”43 The announcement was signed by 1,800 people within a very short time.44  

The Turkish Public’s Reaction to the Lebanon War

During the war in Lebanon in summer 2006, Israeli tourists traveling in Turkey’s southeastern region sometimes met hostile reactions from locals. A shop window in Alanya displayed the awkwardly-worded placard, “For Children Killers, Israelis No Sale, No Entry.”45 One Israeli family was actually assaulted by an individual in the same town.46 Yeni Şafak took the Turkish Radio and Television Association (TRT) to task for including in its programming the Roman Polanski movie The Pianist, which deals with a Polish Jewish pianist during World War II.47 In response, the TRT removed the program.48 In turn, Ahmet Hakan, a columnist for the leading daily Hürriyet and moderator of a popular debate program at the CNN Türk television channel, criticized TRT’s decision. Yet he claimed the decision, while perhaps necessary, meant “missing the opportunity to show the Turkish people how those who are often ‘oppressed’ can today become ‘the oppressors.’”49 The well-known museum curator Vasıf Kortun resigned from his advisory position in the Israel Museum in protest of the war, and refused a similar offer from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.50 

Turkish Intellectuals’ Reactions to Operation Cast Lead

During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, Turkish opinion leaders reacted similarly to the way they had to the war in Lebanon. Again, these reactions can be divided into four categories.

1. “Israel’s legitimacy is questionable.” Ahmet Turan Alkan, a retired academic and contributor to the Islamist daily Zaman and the journal Aksiyon, described Israel in these terms:

When Israel emerged as a state after World War II, there was an aspect to it that had the air of a science fiction novel, or a very ancient epic. 

Israel is the product of a fantasy: a fantasy that is unparalleled, that leaves one speechless and boggles the mind; it’s the product of an illusion.

Perhaps the most fantastic story of the 20th century is the establishment of an Israeli state in Palestine: Israel reminds one of a sort of Disneyland. An imaginary nation that lived [only] in the minds of Zionist Jews, now resurrected on the territories of Palestine; it’s a cartoon....

     A maquette country: a film studio.51

For Ayhan Demir, a writer for the Islamist Millî Gazete, the only possible solution to the problem was Israel’s disappearance:

The first thing to be done to achieve the security of Istanbul and Jerusalem is to get rid, in as short a time as possible, of this “shanty town” that has begun to harm humanity on the entire face of the earth, and which is as offensive to the heart as to the eye. To send the occupiers to the garbage heap of history, together with their bloody charlatanism would be one of the most noble acts that could be realized in the name of humanity. A world without Israel would be, without a doubt, a much more peaceful and secure world.52 

2. “Israel is comparable to Hitler and the Nazis.” Such parallels are made frequently in Turkish newspaper columns. Likewise, Gaza is likened to Auschwitz53 and Israel is claimed to “have turned the Holocaust into an industry to act as a cover for all of Israel’s atrocities.”54 In one instance, after alluding to the theme of “Jews saved from the Holocaust” in Schindler’s List, the columnist Haşmet Babaoğlu of the mainstream Sabah newspaper demanded that some Western institution compile a similar list of “Gazan children saved from Israeli fire.”55 The leftist daily Birgün led with the headline “Israel Is a Prisoner of the Nazi Spirit”  (İsrail Nazi Ruhuna Esir).56 Nuh Gönültaş of Bugün recounted how a fellow citizen he met on the street exclaimed to him that “Hitler was justified [in annihilating the Jews]!”57

The Islamist sociologist Ali Bulaç, a columnist for Zaman and well-known public intellectual, in one of his articles described Gaza as “a concentration camp that in reality surpass the Nazis camps” and also wrote that “Israel neither wants peace nor will it give up the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates since it is the LORD who gave them to it!”58

3. “The American Jewish lobby controls Hollywood and the media.” Similar to the reactions to the Lebanon war, during Operation Cast Lead numerous Turkish columnists claimed the “American Jewish lobby” was directing the White House’s Middle East policy in the service of Israeli interests. The New York correspondent for the liberal-leftist daily Taraf described this lobby as “a second Israel within America.”59 Oray Eğin, a writer for the mainstream daily Akşam and an admirer of the United States, claimed that the lobby was concentrated in the communications field and highly successful especially in the media and film sectors. Hence, the message of American films was one of “always embracing and protecting the Jews.” The New York Times, Eğin claimed, was always biased in Israel’s favor and so was called a “Jewish paper.” 60

The film critic for Millî Gazete, Seyid Çolak, similarly claimed that as a result of “the preponderantly Jewish filmmakers who dominate Hollywood...the Jews can comfortably conduct their own genocide, by using the credit of an ‘oppressed people’ that these films have given them among world opinion.”61

The belief that the international media favors Israel is so widespread in Turkey that it was even expressed publicly by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He asserted that world opinion remained mute in the face of Israel’s assaults, reflecting “an international media that is under Israel’s control” and does not publish objective reports.62 In response, the abovementioned sociologist and Yeni Şafak contributor Yasin Aktay averred that he shared Erdoğan’s view and that Israel had extraordinary success in the propaganda field.63 The previously mentioned Islamist sociologist Ali Bulaç wrote that “Israel sees itself in a privileged position in the international community and considers that international regulations and customs do not bind it.”64

4. “Israel exploits the Holocaust and accuses its critics of anti-Semitism.” Another frequently encountered theme during and after Operation Cast Lead was that Israel exploits the Holocaust to portray itself as oppressed and mobilizes the Jewish lobby to accuse anyone who criticizes it of anti-Semitism. The source most often cited to buttress this claim was Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.65 The Islamist-minded Solidarity Foundation (Dayanışma Vakfı), known for its pro-Palestinian stance, set off a debate when it placed two notices on billboards belonging to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality criticizing Israel’s military actions with reference to the “Old Testament.”66 Israel’s consul general in Istanbul, Amikam Mordechai, protested that the posters were “fanning the flames of anti-Semitism” and called on the city’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, to have them removed.67 When this demand was reported in the press, Aktay responded in Yeni Şafak:

Israel owes its very existence to a [piece of] propaganda, and its existence in this world, its legitimacy and its ability to appear victimized and justified—even innocent in all of these actions it takes are only possible as a result of this propaganda. What’s more, Israel’s power and the fact that it has not been defeated also derive from a [piece of] propaganda.

This propaganda machine is very successful at having everything interpreted and evaluated in [Israel’s] favor. For example, they are able to both conduct massacres, oppressions and racism that would rival those of the Nazis and also to suppress any comparison of their deeds with those of the Nazis, any relating of them to the concept of genocide, or even in a way to Judaism itself by insinuating [that those making such claims] are “anti-Semites.”... In this sense, the silencing of every criticism of Israel that alludes to Judaism through an automatic and expected accusation of anti-Semitism ultimately provides an extraordinary service for Zionist propaganda, and this policy of Israel has produced blood, oppression and diaspora for other people. Because just as Israel has exploited and colonized everything it also exploits the oppression of the Jews, genocide, Nazi oppression and even Judaism itself.68  

Reactions in Daily Life

In reaction to the war, the Turkish Consumers Union (Tüketiciler Birliği) called for a boycott of Israeli products.69 The Pera Museum in Istanbul postponed the opening of an exhibition of works by Marc Chagall on loan from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The abovementioned leading curator Vasıf Kortun called on the art community to boycott Israeli artists.70

The famous female vocalist Yıldız Tilbe invoked curses on Israel during a television program, saying, “May God bring down one disaster after another upon Israel.” The studio audience answered, “Amen.”71 At a press conference to condemn Israel’s actions and also to criticize the “Apologize to the Armenians” signature campaign started by a group of leftist and liberal intellectuals apologizing for the 1915 massacres,72 Niyazi Çapa, chairman of the Eskişehir-based Osmangazi Federation of Cultural Associations, declared that “Dogs are free to enter but not Jews and Armenians.”73

Despite the presence of 1,500 Turkish police officers, a Eurocup basketball game in Ankara between Türk Telekom and the Israeli team Bnei Hasharon had to be called off because of attacks against the Israeli players by Turkish spectators.74 But the most disturbing incident during the war was the general directive issued by the National Education Ministry that all school staff and students were to stand for a minute of silence in honor of the children killed in Palestine.75  


Regardless of ideological outlook, the Turkish intellectual elite has little interest in broader international developments. The areas of concern are Turkey’s relations with its immediate neighbors, the European Union, the United States, and the various Turkic republics. Turkish intellectuals tend to view anti-Semitism as a problem that is not encountered in Turkey, and as a much-exaggerated, particularist phenomenon that only occupies Turkish Jews. As a result, they do not research or even read in this area, preferring instead to repeat the pat phrases of their respective ideological positions.

Hence, their approaches to the “Palestine question” rarely venture outside the clichés of Turkish popular culture. The average Turkish newspaper reader, columnist, or editor has no proficiency in any foreign language that would allow acces to scholarly or even popular discourse outside the Turkish context. Therefore, the one avenue available to them is translated works from Western and other sources. Yet Turkish publishing houses providing translated works on the Israeli-Palestinian issue are careful not to run afoul of popular sentiment, and they avoid works that might be seen as pro-Israeli or “Israeli propaganda.” The net result is that the typical Turkish columnist—and hence, his or her readers—utilizes only limited sources on the conflict that are preponderantly anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, or conspiracy theories, or some combination of those.

The traditional response of Turkey’s Jewish leaders is to make a clear distinction between Turkish Jewry and the state of Israel and to repeatedly declare that they are “Turks,” while studiously refraining from expressing any view on the conflict. Nevertheless, during Operation Cast Lead the Islamist press exerted constant pressure on the chief rabbi and the community president, including frequent calls on them to condemn Israel, accusing Turkish Jews of being “Zionists” if they did not do so, and implying that failure to condemn Israeli actions indicated support for “Jewish terror.”76 Nor were such sentiments limited to the Islamist press. At one point Serdar Turgut, a writer for the mainstream Akşam, issued a similar call.77

There is, indeed, little that the Turkish Jewish leaders can do in the face of such a situation. The opinion leaders and intellectual elites remain largely oblivious to the question of whether anti-Semitism is only or should remain a “Jewish problem.” Although the Turkish Penal Code contains clear articles prohibiting incitement or discrimination on the basis of language, religion, or race, prosecutors have largely failed to initiate legal action against anti-Semitic publications. In the face of such judicial passivity, Jewish community president Silvyo Ovadya called on President Abdullah Gül to have the Turkish Penal Code include a regulation outlawing anti-Semitism.78 But even were such a prohibition to be officially introduced, it is hardly likely that it would spur the state prosecutor to action or function effectively as a deterrent.

Moreover, any attempt by the Jewish leadership to confront Turkish society on combating anti-Semitism is likely to backfire and even further exacerbate the problem. For instance, upon reading of Ovadya’s demand in the Turkish press, radical Islamist writer Nurettin Şirin addressed a message to the community president on the Turkish Islamist website The Road to Jerusalem (Kudüs Yolu): “Well, since you have demanded that the prosecutors initiate action [against anti-Semitic publications], please, take your case to one of the prosecutors and let’s meet in court. Don’t send your attorneys, but come yourself, so that we’ll have the opportunity to spit in your ugly face. Let’s express it to you in diplomatic terminology: Silvyo Ovadya: persona non grata.”79

On the subject of anti-Semitism, the attitude of the Islamist and nationalist intellectuals and publicists is very simple. For them a Muslim cannot be an anti-Semite. As Ali Bulaç stated it in his column in Zaman:

Anti-Semitism is haram [forbidden] in our religion. One cannot have enmity against the Jew because of his religion/race. The Koran when speaking of Jews and Christians states clearly that “not all of them are alike” (3/Al Imran, 113-115) and praises the good ones.  As a matter of fact, we have seen in all parts of the world “good Jews” who reacted to the murders [committed by] Israel.80

Selçuk Gültaşlı, Washington correspondent of the Islamist, English-language Today’s Zaman daily, expressed this as follows:

Being against racism of all sorts is a distinctive characteristic and is an integral part of any Muslim. If one refuses Islamophobia, but at the same time pours petrol on the fire of anti-Semitism, it will make one racist and discredit the cause that one is defending. However, we must never allow the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to be blurred. A person who fights against anti-Semitism may consistently condemn a Zionist Israel. But one needs to be in the position of Ariel Sharon when accusing hundreds of Jewish intellectuals who condemn Israel of anti-Semitism.81

From a leftist standpoint as well, no leftist can be an anti-Semite since leftists oppose racism and discrimination. Therefore even the most virulently anti-Semitic publicist in Turkey, whether Islamist, nationalist, or leftist, will always claim that his criticism should not be interpreted as anti-Semitism. He will state that he is an anti-Zionist and not an anti-Semite and that the Zionists always accuse those who make legitimate criticisms of Israel of anti-Semitism and thus make the state of Israel immune to criticism.

In such a situation, the Jewish leadership have no allies whatsoever who might publicly support them in their fight against anti-Semitism since no public intellectual or journalist would want to be labeled a “Zionist” or “Israel lover” by the Islamist press. They will neither show support for Israel nor condemn anti-Semitism. In past cases where anti-Semitism skyrocketed in the Turkish press, the only reaction was from leftist and liberal-minded human rights activists who, in turn, were severely criticized as “pro-Israeli” by other leftists.82

Given the reality, the only options left for Turkey’s Jewish community are to either continue living in Turkey amid widespread anti-Semitism or to emigrate. Turkey’s present political and social conditions offer no other choice.   

Appendix: Profile of Newspapers Cited 

The overall daily circulation figure of all newspapers is 4,654,299 as of June 2009.

Akşam: Daily. Secular and Kemalist. Belongs to the Türkmedya group. Circulation 143,000.

Aksiyon: Weekly journal similar to Time or Newsweek. Belongs to the same group that owns Zaman. Circulation 26,000.

Anadolu’da Vakit: Daily. Radical Islamist. Circulation 52,000.

Birgün: Daily. Leftist. Circulation 5,000.

Birikim: Monthly journal, leftist. Small circulation of probably 1,000 copies. It is, however, highly regarded by the leftist and liberal intellectuals as some of its writers are also columnists for Taraf and Radikal İki, Radikal’s Sunday edition.

Bugün: Daily. Belongs to Koza İpek Holding Inc., which also owns also the Kanaltürk television channel. Bugün has columnists of various ideological convictions: ex-Marxist (Gülay Göktürk), İslamist (Ahmet Taşgetiren, Nuh Gönültaş and Cemal Uşşak), Kemalist (Toktamış Ateş), and nationalist (Ömer Lütfi Mete). Circulation 56,000.

Hürriyet: Daily. Mainstream, secular. Belongs to the number-one media group Doğan Yayın Holding Inc.83 Undoubtedly the most influential of the newspapers. Circulation 465,000. It has also an English edition, Hürriyet Daily News.

Millî  Gazete: Unofficial daily organ of the National View (Millî Görüş) movement, founded by Necmettin Erbakan and dedicated to political Islam. This ideology is currently represented by the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi). Circulation 50,000.

Milliyet: Daily. Secular. Belongs to Doğan Yayın Holding Inc. Circulation 170,000.

Önce Vatan: Daily. Nationalist. Circulation 6,000.

Ortadoğu: Daily. Nationalist. Circulation 6,500.

Radikal: Daily. Liberal-leftist. Belongs to Doğan Yayın Holding Inc. Circulation 37,000, but it is a prestigious daily with a number of influential columnists and is one of the two newspapers (the other is Taraf) commonly read by the leftist and liberal intellectuals.

Sabah: Daily. Pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Islamist party that now governs Turkey. Belongs to the Turkuvaz Medya group, whose vice-president is the brother of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son-in-law. Circulation 333,000.

Star: Daily. Features Islamist and libertarian columnists. Belongs to businessman Ethem Sancak, who also owns the Kanal 24 television channel. Circulation 101,000.

Taraf: Daily. Liberal-leftist. Belongs to the Alkim company, publisher and owner of bookstores. Circulation 58,000, and very influential among the leftist and liberal intellectuals.

Today’s Zaman: Daily. English version of Zaman. Circulation 4.700. Addresses exclusively the foreign diplomatic community and expatriates living in Turkey.

Yeni Şafak: Daily. Belongs to the Islamist Albayrak group. Circulation 102,000.

Zaman: Daily. Belongs to Feza Yayıncılık, closely connected to the Islamist religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who is honorary president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (www.gyv.org.tr) and currently resides in New Jersey for “health reasons.” Circulation 767,000. It has also an English edition, Today’s Zaman.  


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