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After Gaza: Rising Anti-Semitism in Turkey?

After Gaza: Rising Anti-Semitism in Turkey?

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Originally pubished in January 2009, this paper asks if Turkey's unusually harsh response, both official and public, to Israel's assault against Hamas in Gaza is merely a reaction to Israel's policies? Or does it mirror latent anti-Semitism in Turkish society?
Originally pubished in January 2009, this paper asks if Turkey's unusually harsh response, both official and public, to Israel's assault against Hamas in Gaza is merely a reaction to Israel's policies? Or does it mirror latent anti-Semitism in Turkish society?

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 24, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Is Turkey’s unusually harshresponse, both official and public, toIsrael’s assault against Hamas in Gazamerely a reaction to Israel’s policies? Or does it mirror latent anti-Semitism inTurkish society? These questions are in-creasingly being raised, especially among  Jewish-American groups who are among Turkey’s firmest friends in Washington.
Recep Tayyip Erdo
an, Turkey’s primeminister, stands out as one o the harshestcritics o Israel’s latest military assault inGaza. Erdo
an has repeatedly lashed outagainst the Jewish state calling its actions“a crime against humanity.” He has evengone as ar as suggesting that Israel besuspended rom the United Nations.Additionally, slogans chanted during aslew o anti-Israeli demonstrations acrossTurkey have been more virulent. For in-stance, in the predominantly Kurdish city o Van on January 16 ollowing Friday prayers, protesters cried, “Mohammed’sarmy is the ear o the inidels.” “Murder-ous Israel disappear rom the globe” and“Turkish armies march onto Jerusalem”were also common rerains elsewhereacross the country. On January 13, Turk-ish schoolchildren were instructed by the Ministry o National Education toobserve a moment o silence or thePalestinians. Amid appeals to boycottIsraeli and American goods, various col-umnists have likened Israelis to “Nazis.”“There is no Israeli state, only a terroristorganization called Israel,” wrote KamilYe
il in the pro-Islamic daily 
 Milli Gazete
.Ater a group o nationalists brandishedplacards that read “Dogs allowed,Armenians and Jews cannot enter”outside their oice in the Western city o Eskisehir, prosecutors were inally shamed into ordering an investigation.In Istanbul, security has been heightenedaround synagogues.In a rare statement, the Turkish-Jewish community voiced its alarm. “Asan inseparable component o the TurkishRepublic, we the Turkish Jews eel deepsorrow over recent comments in someTurkish publications that denigrate andinsult our religion and make us targets,”it said. The message came on the heelso a text that was widely circulated onthe internet exhorting Turkish Jews tocontribute to und-raising eorts or thePalestinians.None o this may sound unusual in a ma- jority Muslim country. However, Turkey prides itsel on being the most pro-West-ern and tolerant nation in the Islamicworld. The Ottoman Sultans opened theirdoors to Iberian Jews leeing the inquisi-tion 500 years ago. Turkish diplomatshelped rescue hundreds o Jews rom theNazis. Turkey is NATO’s sole Muslimmember. In 2005, it became the irstIslamic country to enter membershiptalks with the European Union. And it
After Gaza: Rising anti-Semitism in Turkey?
 by Amberin Zaman*
Amberin Zaman is the Turkey correspondent for
The Economist
and writes a weekly column for the Turkish daily
. The viewsexpressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the German Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates (GMF).
, DC
Summary: Is Turkey’s unusually
harsh response, both ofcial and
public, to Israel’s assault againstHamas in Gaza merely a reaction to Israel’s policies? Or does itmirror latent anti-Semitism inTurkish society? These questionsare increasingly being raised,especially among Jewish-Americangroups who are among Turkey’s
rmest friends in Washington.
 Encouragingly, however, as thechorus of anti-Israeli sentimentgrows louder, a growing numberof commentators are speaking up against anti-Semitism. Thereare even signature campaignscondemning racism and anti-Semitism circulating in the Turkishblogsphere. And Turkey’s Jewswho long maintained a low profileare beginning to speak up as well.Can Turkey continue to pride itself 
on being the most pro-Western and
 tolerant nation in the Islamic world?
was among the irst countries to recognize Israel’s indepen-dence in 1948. Under a military cooperation deal signed in1996, Israel has been using Turkish airspace to train its air-orce. Turkey has also won praise rom the United States orits mediation eorts between Syria and Israel. Indeed, Turkey says it played a big part in helping to secure the unilateralceaseire declared by Hamas on January 18.This is not the irst time that Turkey and Israel have been atodds. The relationship hit some turbulence in 2004, whenErdo
an called Israel a “terrorist state” ater it assassinatedHamas’ ounder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israeli tempers laredanew in 2005 when Turkey invited the Damascus-based Hamasleader, Khalid Mashaal, to Ankara just as it began courting Rus-sia and Iran. A stream o rebukes rom Washington promptedErdo
an to back down. He did not meet with Mashaal, leavinghim instead in the hands o Turkey’s then-Foreign MinisterAbdullah Gül; the immediate crisis was deused.This time, however, Erdo
an may have gone too ar. His latestbout o Israel bashing has revived unprecedented debate overthe uture o Turkey’s ties with Israel and by extension overthose with the United States, its closest ally. In an unusually tough editorial, the
 Jerusalem Post 
noted that given Turkey’srecord with its Kurds, “we’re not convinced that Turkey hasearned the right to lecture Israel about human rights.”In a bid to limit the damage, diplomats on both sides havebeen making a lurry o positive noises. They insist thatTurkish-Israeli relations, both military and economic, remainas robust as ever. And they argue that Erdo
an’s thunder againstIsrael is calculated in part to woo pious constituents, who havebeen disgruntled by the Prime Minister’s ailure to ease oicialbans on the Islamic-style headscar in universities and govern-ment oices in the run-up to nationwide municipal elections,to be held on March 29.To be sure, Erdo
an has so ar turned a dea ear to clamors romIslamist circles to sever ties with the Jewish state. Commentingon the protests, a source close to the Prime Minister maintainedthat “it is healthier to let people vent their eelings openly onthe streets. Suppressing them would play into the hands o Islamic radicals.” Meanwhile, in a bid to distance Turkey romits perceived pro-Hamas line, the Turkish Foreign Minister AliBabacan told reporters on January 26 that “Hamas needs todecide. Does it want to be an armed group, or a politicalmovement?”Jewish-American groups, who have been among Turkey’s irm-est riends in Washington, are unswayed by such arguments.They aired their anxiety or the saety o Turkey’s 25,000-strongJewish community in a joint letter to Erdo
an. They believethat Erdo
an and his Islam-rooted Justice and DevelopmentParty (AKP) could have done more to quell the swelling waveo anti-Israeli hysteria among ordinary Turks. Their supporthas been critical in helping successive U.S. administrationsend o a long-touted U.S. Congressional resolution that labelsthe 1915 mass killing o the Ottoman Armenians as “genocide.”Turkey’s strategic role in Iraq and Aghanistan is one o themain reasons why the genocide bill has been repeatedly struckdown. However, Turkey’s Jewish riends may now be lesssupportive “not just because Turkey is increasingly perceivedas anti-Israel, but worse, as anti-Semitic,” said a U.S. Congres-sional staer in Washington.On January 13, mindul o the looming allout, Erdo
an toldParliament that he was irmly opposed to anti-Semitism.“I am a leader who has said that anti-Semitism is a crimeagainst humanity,” he declared. “It is the responsibility o everyone to ensure that the protests, reactions, commentaries[against Israel] do not oend our own citizens. We can neveraccept discrimination on ethnic, religious, or communalgrounds,” he added.Anti-Jewish eelings are not as widespread as in otherMuslim countries, but they are not new. Although Turkish-Jews have generally had a better deal than the Armenians orthe Greeks, who were also recognized as oicial minoritiesunder the Lausanne Treaty, they were the main group aectedby the 1942 crippling “wealth tax” on all non-Muslims. Thosewho ailed to pay were sent o to labor camps. In recent years,anti-Semitism has been bound up with a virulent strain o nationalism that also targets Christians and other non-Muslimminorities, who are viewed as stalking horses or Westernpowers purportedly bent on dismembering Turkey.A 2008 Pew Global Attitudes Survey suggested that anti-Jewish sentiment in Turkey was rising. Seventy-six percento those surveyed said they had negative views toward Jews,whereas a mere 7 percent said they looked kindly upon them.Compared to a 2004 Pew survey that reported 49 percent o respondents as having expressed negative eelings toward Jews.Ironically, pro-secular politicians have in recent yearsembraced an increasingly nationalist rhetoric that takes aimat non-Muslims, including Jews. “Anti-Israeli sentiments

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