Anti-Semitism is rising in Turkey as coronavirus spreads - academic

As coronavirus cases rise in Turkey, so is anti-Semitism blaming the outbreak on Jews, said an opinion writer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Tuesday.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories claiming that Jews or Zionists are behind the spread of the coronavirus are a global phenomenon and not unique to Turkey, and are linked to long standing anti-Semitic tropes that have scapegoated Jews for centuries, said Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College who writes about Turkish and Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

“However, unfortunately, in Turkey, these conspiracy theories win airtime and media coverage, and they reach large parts of the Turkish population,” wrote Fishman. 

On the pro-government TV channel ATV, a guest billed as an “expert” on the virus said that: "Whoever spread the virus, will find the cure. Israel already made a statement that they found a vaccine." 

One Islamist internet site shared the thoughts of Fatih Erbakan, the leader of the newly established Islamist Yeniden Refah Partisi. "While there is no hard proof, Zionism could very well be behind the coronavirus," said Erbakan.  

Fishman also highlighted a video that emerged on social media of a conversation on a minibus in Istanbul between passengers and the driver about how Jews are a “cursed race” who want to ruin Turkey and the rest of the world, and have spread the virus to benefit pharmaceutical companies. 

Fishman stressed that these views are not reflective of all Turkish people, and that while anti-Semitism is often found among pro-government factions and religious conservatives it is also found on the secular left. 

He also said that he has rarely encountered anti-Semitism during 20 years of visits to Turkey, and that anti-Semitism in Turkey is often in the “realm of conspiracy theories and political discourse, but it doesn’t necessarily filter down to personal bigotry.”

But he said that the minibus conversation “serves as an example of how deeply embedded anti-Semitism is within some sectors of Turkish society, and how quickly the rumours of a Jewish conspiracy are taking hold.” 

In recent years, the Turkish government has led public recognition of the Jewish community and its history, from memorialising the Holocaust to restoring synagogues.

But Fishman blamed heavy-handed government control of the media and the rise of social media for amplifying hate speech in Turkey against many minorities, whether targeting Jews, Kurds, non-Muslims, and the LGBT community. 

“The Turkish government is now detaining people for spreading what it calls ‘unfounded and provocative’ disinformation about the coronavirus,” wrote Fishman. “If those detentions are really in good faith, then surely anti-Semitic conspiracy theories should be included – and censured too.”