“Anti-Semitism has no place in Turkey. It is alien to our culture,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, on June 10, 2005, in accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of diplomats who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
This is one of the most commonly shared pieces of misinformation in Turkey. For facts on the ground – particularly the endless 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 a brilliantly 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.”
Anti-Semitism in the Single-Party Period (1923 – 1945)
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.”
And the first major physical attack against Jews in republican 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 occurred in the provinces of Tekirdag, Edirne, Kirklareli, and Canakkale and were motivated by anti-Semitism – particularly by the anti-Semitic articles produced by some Pan-Turkic authors.
During the pogroms, the Jews in the region were targeted and attacked by Muslim Turks. Jewish houses and businesses were vandalized. Some Jewish girls and women were raped. Over 15,000 Jews had to flee from the region.
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.
Anti-Semitic Publications: Bestsellers in Turkey
Another important point is the repeated publications of anti-Semitic books in Turkey. Bali explains:
“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.
“The Protocols was translated and published, either in book form or as a series of newspaper articles, 102 times between 1923 and 2008.
“If the Protocols is extremely popular among Islamists, translations of Mein Kampf are popular among ultranationalists.
“Mein Kampf was translated and published thirty times between 1940 and 2000.
“In the year 2005, when new editions of Mein Kampf translations suddenly appeared on the shelves of mainstream book stores, up to 100,000 copies – a huge number for Turkish readership – were sold in a matter of a few months.”
How Anti-Semitism became institutionalized in Turkish political Islam
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 the political Islam in Turkey. Much of Erbakan’s worldview was about “exposing” the “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 to the Turkey’s accession process to the European Union – Erbakan said that Israel and the “evil” ideology called “Zionism” was the one to blame.
“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,” Kucukali notes.
Many Islamist journalists have also attempted to indoctrinate their readers in Jew-hatred and Israel-hatred.
The Islamist columnist Abdurrahim Karakoc, for instance, wrote in his column for the newspaper Vakit on August 17, 2004:
“It is impossible not to admire the foresight of Adolph Hitler, who is presented to public opinion as ‘racist, sadistic, and monstrous.’ Way back then, Hitler foresaw what would happen these [present] days. He cleansed off these swindler Jews, who believe in racism for a religion and take pleasure in bathing the world in blood, because he knew that they would become [this] big a curse for the world.”
On February, 2009, the Ankara provincial directorate of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), posted an article on its website, which said: “The claims that Hitler roasted Jews and killed them en masse do not accord with historical facts. Those who were killed were killed to enable others to immigrate to the Palestinian lands.” The entire post was filled with hateful lies that attempt to deny not only the legitimacy of Israel but also the reality of the Holocaust.
Erdogan: A Jew Serving Israel?
Today, anti-Semitism in Turkey is at such irrational heights that many 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 his covert but profound “support for Israeli policies.”
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 in 2013:
“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.”
Sener went on to say that the Lebanese Hezbollah is “the honor of all Muslims worldwide” and “the only place where Israel tasted defeat since the day it was established was [during its war] against the Lebanese Hezbollah.”
Another public figure who claimed Erdogan and his wife are Jewish is Ergun Poyraz, a bestselling author known for his Turkish nationalist views.
Poyraz published several books in which he wrote that Turkish President Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan have Jewish roots, and Abdullah Gul, former Turkish President, as well as Bulent Arinc, former state minister, have all served “Zionism.”
Turkish Secularists and anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitic propaganda in Turkey is not peculiar to Islamists. Some secularist intellectuals have also spent much time to promote the prejudice or hatred against the Jews.
A well-known secularist journalist in Turkey, Can Dundar, for instance, tried to distort the real objective of the Holocaust by emphasizing the identities of all people who lost their lives in the war, and ignoring the open intentions of the Nazis, the perpetrators of the genocide. He wrote in his column on June 6, 2000:
“As the Hollywood movies depicting the Second World War are mostly made with Jewish capital, people suppose that the only victims of the war were Jews. It is a disgrace to count the dead but it is useful to know that out of the 40 million losses, 6 million were Jews; 26 million were Soviet citizens.”
In 2002, Dundar wrote another piece titled “The Jewish Lobby in the USA” in which he tried to “prove” that Jews run the world:
“Not only do the US administration, but also the academic circles, the capitalist circles and the media operate as the propaganda tool of Israel. When the celebrated reporters of CNN catch [Yasser] Arafat, they turn into prosecutors.”
He then went on to warn his readers to be aware of the Jewish dominance in the world media and politics:
“Probably, on TV, in the media, the internet and under most of the speeches coming out of the mouths of state authorities are also their [the Jews’] invisible signatures. Do try to see them!”
Dundar was recently arrested due to his coverage of ISIS-Turkey relations and was frequently bashed by Turkey’s President Erdogan. But actually, Erdogan and Dundar seem to have at least one thing in common: their belief that Jews control the international media and politics:
At a speech given at the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum in 2010, Erdogan also said that Israel dominates the world media: “When the world media is pronounced, Israel and Israel’s administration comes to mind. They have the ability to manipulate it as they wish.”
Soner Yalcin, a bestselling Kemalist author, also claimed in his book “The Great Secret of White Turks” published in 2004 that the world is ruled by Jews and Turkey by the Dönme, or Crypto Jews.[ii]
Among the many public intellectuals, who claim the Dönme control Turkey is Professor Yalcin Kucuk, known for his Marxist and Kemalist views. Kucuk has dedicated much of his career to spreading his myths about who the Dönme are, what they do and how they secretly dominate the Turkish politics.
Anti-Semitism on Turkish TV
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.”[iii]
“Another TV serial titled ‘Separation: Palestine in Love and War,’ broadcast on Turkish State television (TRT) at prime time in 2009, depicted IDF 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,” Bali concludes.
Poll: Israel is Most Hated Country in Turkey
On November 15, 2003, 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, 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 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.”
Turkish people – like all other Muslim peoples – are already prone to anti-Semitism due to the intense anti-Semitic references in the Islamic scriptures. But as they have also been exposed to the Jew-hating or Israel-hating bombardment of many of their politicians and writers, their anti-Semitic inclinations seem to have doubled.
Many online articles or editorials in the Turkish press dealing with Israel are filled with Israel-hating reader responses. There are countless internet postings that parrot the anti-Semitic propaganda of Turkish political leaders and authors.
Another bit of evidence for anti-Semitism in the Turkish society can be found in the results of public opinion surveys.
“In both Pakistan and Turkey, 76% express unfavorable opinions of Jews, while fewer than one-in-ten have a positive impression,” reported PEW Research Center in 2008.
Another Pew Research Center poll released in 2014 found that Israel was the country most hated by Turkish citizens. 86% of responders said they had an unfavorable opinion of Israel, while only 2% viewed it positively.
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 state ideology, the Republic of 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 complete opposite.
Ever since the Turkish republic was established, anti-Semitism has been increasingly commonplace in both the political discourse and the media. And many Turks today under the current Islamist government do not even feel the need to hide their Jew-hating, racist views either on the internet or in their everyday lives.
Throughout the 93 years of the Turkish republic, many governments have come to power, many laws have been changed and several different political developments have been experienced. But one of the things that has remained unchanged is the rampant anti-Semitism in Turkey.
Undoubtedly, many Turkish political leaders and media representatives share the responsibility of infecting millions of Turks with the virus of Jew-hatred.
[i] “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.
(From: “Discursive Strategies and Political Hegemony: The Turkish case”, by Can Kucukali, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2015.)
[ii] “The term Dönme (literally, ‘turned around’) is generally used in Turkey for people who have changed their religious or national affiliation or their sexual orientation,” wrote Corry Guttstadt in her book “Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust.”
“But in a narrower sense, the word Dönme designates followers of Sabbatai Twi (Sevi), ‘a false Messiah’ of the seventieth century, who inspired Jews throughout Europe and eventually converted to Islam. Some of his followers, who likewise converted in his wake, founded their own sect whose center was in Salonika. After Salonika had been lost, and once again after the founding of the Republic, almost all Dönme resettled in Turkey. As early as the 1920s and 30s, the Dönme were targeted by a very specific type of anti-Semitism that is particularly virulent today.” (From: “Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust”, by Corry Guttstadt, Cambridge University Press, 2013.)
[iii] The “Valley of the Wolves” has obtained remarkably high ratings since it was first aired in 2003 up until today.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb