Oct 27 2017

Turkey's growing anti-Semitism raises concerns

Last July, an ultra-nationalist group pelted the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, one of the few remaining places of worship for the country's declining Jewish community, with stones. Their 'protest' was levelled against Israel's restrictions of Palestinian access to the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, a site deemed holy by many different religions.

Kürşat Mican, head of the Istanbul branch of Alperen Ocakları, the youth wing of the Islamist far-right Great Unity Party, had this to say:

"We carried out our press briefing in front of the Neve Shalom Synagogue as a warning to Israel the murderer. Down with Israel. Long live Palestine."

Yet, it was by no accident that the growing anti-Israeli political discourse targeted Turkey's own Jews, and this was not the first time. 

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, "anti-Semitism is a feature, not a bug" writes Bridget Johnson, noting how Turkey's pro-government media fuels the hatred by stories blaming problems on Jews. Things got uglier after the last year's coup attempt, after which headlines declared Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher who the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the attempt, a Jew.

Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu, in a December parliamentary speech, predicted that Gülen would die in the U.S., where he has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999, “and he will be buried in a cemetery with Jews.” The party refrain on Erdoğan’s top foe is that traitor must equal Jew.

Only last month, a banner in Istanbul in protest at the Kurdish independence referendum accused Kurdish Regional Government leader Mesud Barzani of being a Jew. The warning in red, "We can come in the night, suddenly" is a quotation from Erdoğan on Turkey's military operations in Northern Iraq and Syria.

Johnson notes that post-coup Turkey creates insecurities for everyone, given that anyone can now be purged from work and face jail for the slightest show of opposition – as 60,000 arrests and the closure of 187 media outlets for links to Gülen shows. Yet, as Erdoğan's acolytes seek to degrade Gülen for "being a Jew", Turkey's diminished Jewish community, now fewer than 17,000 people, has more to be nervous about.

Read Bridget Johnson's piece here: