Some articles published in
fringe right-wing newspapers during 2008 were
extremely antisemitic. From the start of Israel’s Gaza operation, the
virulently antisemitic atmosphere fomented by the fundamentalist press was
exacerbated by emotional speeches made by state officials. From mid- January
they began condemning antisemitic manifestations.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Jewish community numbers approximately 20,000 out of a total population of 70 million.
Some 18,000 live in Istanbul, 1,800 in Izmir and the rest are scattered
throughout the country.
The Jewish community is represented by the Chief Rabbinate.
There are 23 active synagogues in Turkey, more than half of which are located
in Istanbul, which also has Jewish social clubs, a Jewish school, two homes for
the elderly and a Jewish hospital. The community publishes a weekly newspaper, Shalom,
in Turkish and a one-page bulletin in Ladino.
Political ideologies and parties
National View (or Milli Görüş, in
Turkish) is an Islamist ideology and movement developed in 1970 by Necmettin
Erbakan and now continued by the Felicity Party. The National View promotes
Islamic values and opposes Israel, Zionism, the EU, the western world, the US
The ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve
Partisi – AKP) split from the National View movement in 2001. While it defines
itself as a conservative democratic party its ideology is influenced by Islam. The “nationalist” stream generally opposes the umma (extended
Muslim community) concept and imposition of Shar`ia law,
although a few of its adherents may be both nationalist and Islamist. It consists of: the
traditional Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket), the second
largest opposition parliamentary party; left-wing groups (such as the Workers
Party − İşçi Partisi, which is socialist in its economic agenda, but
supports nationalist values), which oppose the
EU, the US and globalization; and various small groups. Nationlist supporters
attack the allegedly pro-Israel and pro-US line of the Justice and Development
Party led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The main opposition party is the secular, socio-democratic
Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi − CHP), which is a
strong upholder of Ataturk’s legacy. It also has nationalist traits, in that it
views foreign and economic affairs though a nationalist prism.
start of Israel’s war in Gaza on December 27, most antisemitism in Turkey was
expressed in the media. Some articles published in the Islamist Vakit
and Milli Gazete (semi-official organ of
the National View), and the ultra-nationalist Ortadoğu and Yeni Çağ, were extremely antisemitic. A few columnists writing for the more
mainstream Yeni Şafak also wrote antisemitic articles.
Some antisemtic references were in the context of
criticism of Israel: labeling Israeli attacks against civilians as genocide;
comparing Zionism with Nazism and Israeli leaders with Hitler; and cursing
Israel and praying for a world without it. Jewish conspiracy theory themes,
such as “Jews rule the world” and quotations from The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion; the claim that Israel is buying up land through Jewish
Turkish citizens in southeast Turkey for colonization as part of the biblical
Eretz Israel Project, whose borders are the Euphrates and the Nile; and the
allegation that Israeli soldiers are cooperating with the Kurds in northern
Iraq against Turkey, since Jews and Kurds are “relatives” − were also frequent
themes in those newspapers.
that continued to figure in 2008 was the “Shabtaists,” the followers of
Shabetay Zvi, Jews who converted to Islam in the 16th century. Today’s alleged
followers are branded secret Jews and are accused of having hidden agendas
aimed at harming Turkey. Some surnames and families are clearly identifiable as
“Shabtaists”, but they try never to expose themselves. Many years ago a certain
“Ilgaz Zorlu” applied to the judicial authorities claiming that he was
Shabtaist and converted to Judaism by court decision.
praising Hitler and denying Holocaust sometimes appeared in fundementalist
newspapers such as Milli Gazete or Vakit. TV stations such as the
Islamic Mesajtv, although not major channels, take advantage of every
news item concerning the Middle East to attack the Jews through derogative
religious statements and quotes from the Qu’ran. Furthermore, a significant
number of the thousands of local radio channels in Turkey incite to hatred
Israel’s Gaza Operation
As soon as Israel’s Gaza operation
began, the focus in Turkey was on Israel’s cruelty.
Articles praying for a world
without Israel became very common in the fundamentalist press, and blatantly
antisemitic articles were published without the cover of criticism of Israeli
fundamentalist press such as Vakit warned the chief rabbi of Turkey that
it was time for the rabbinate to leave the country because he did not condemn Israel.
Comparisons with the Holocaust were rife, with articles branding Israel’s
operation a “holocaust” and comparing Israel to
Hitler or claiming it was worse than Hitler. They also quoted verses from the
Talmud, declared Jews were a cursed nation that fed on blood and stated it was
no longer a mistake to declare that all Jews were enemies. A columnist in Milli
Gazete hoped that eventually no Jew would walk on Turkey’s streets ever
anti-Jewish atmosphere was fanned by emotional speeches by state officials, who
harshly condemned Israel and supported the Hamas, without calculating the
antisemitic effect they might have.
That being said,
during all those tense days, no physical attack or incident took place against
the Jews of Turkey. It should be also emphasized that from the first day of the
operation, the Turkish police took steps to protect Jewish institutions. It
should be noted, too, that many liberal journalists writing for papers such as Hürriyet,
Milliyet and Vatan wrote balanced columns, advising people to
avoid antisemitism and not distress Turkish Jews, and frequently stating that
criticism of Israel should never turn to hostility against Jews.
made by the Chief Rabbi of Turkish Jews Isak Haleva on January 6, stating
that he and his fellow Jews felt deep sadness about the death of innocent
people, was read by Prime Minister Erdoğan at a party meeting and
the most striking events that took place during this period, demonstrating the
initial emotional response and gradual attempts to tone down its antisemitic
aspects. A cultural association, the Federation of Osmangazi Culture
Associations in Eskişehir, organized an anti-Israel press conference, at
which it displayed a banner stating, “Jews and Armenians cannot enter but dogs
can.” A complaint was lodged and legal proceedings were to follow.
around the city of Istanbul in two versions; “This does not exist in
your book [the Torah] either,” and “You cannot be the child of Moses.” They
were removed following intervention by the Turkish Jewish Community.
The Ministry of Education circulated a directive to all
schools urging students to stand for a minute’s silence in memory of the
children killed in Gaza. An essay and painting competition about the war it
also organized was canceled by the minister the following day, on the grounds
that it might incite antisemitism among children.
Following a visit by the leaders of Turkish Jewish
Community, the mufti of Istanbul who, along with other imams in the mosque had
delivered emotional speeches denouncing Israel, softened his tone on the
following Fridays and urged his followers to behave fairly toward Jewish
Further, awareness of increasing tensions by the state’s
leaders, led Prime Minister Erdoğan to begin a campaign on January
13 to condemn antisemitism. From then on, the media, too, began criticizing
antisemitism and emotions began to cool. On January 15, the Turkish
Jewish Community issued a press statement emphasizing the right of its members
to equality with Turkish citizens and stating that they had nothing to do with
what was going on in the Middle East. A day later, Erdoğan made a stronger statement
condemning hatred against Turkish Jews, also noting they had no connection to
the events in Gaza.
operation ended, a letter by a prominent Turkish Jewish psychologist explaining
the feelings experienced by the Jews of the country during that period was
published in a leading newspaper. She said that as a Turkish citizen with equal
rights, she was embarrased by the atmosphere created in her homeland Turkey
against Turkish Jews. Subsequently, she received a phone call from President
Gül, who expressed his sympathy.
There followed a series of declarations both by Turkey’s
leaders, condemning antisemitism and assuring the Jews of their status as
citizens with equal rights, and by representatives of the Jewish Community,
including a demand for legislation against hate speech.
Many of the best-selling
antisemitic books of 2007 remained popular in 2008. These included Moses’
Kids, about Prime Minister Erdoğan
and his wife, and Moses’ Rose, about President Abdullah Gül
(see ASW 2007). Translations of The
Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion were sold under new names, such as Being
a Jew in the Mind, although the tract is less popular and not highly
visible at bookstores.
Books by Turkish
authors that promote Jewish conspiracy theories continued to be sold in Turkish
bookstores. These included two older works The Code of Israel and The
Hidden Laws of Talmud by “Hakan Yılmaz
Çebi.” Both describe the secret plans of Israel and the Jews to
conquer the world. Two new books appeared in 2008. The History Of the Jew
by “Mahmut Nana” claims that the Old Testament is distorted by the Jews; as an
example, the author provides an alleged quote: “Only the Jews are human; all
the others are different type of animals; only the Chosen People deserve
eternal life; all the others are donkeys…” The second, a modern version of The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is titled The People Who Run the World and
Their Systems, by “İsmail
websites promote anti-Jew hatred and racism. Examples include www.vahdet.com.tr; www.kudusyolu.org
Attitudes toward the Holocaust
following Turkey’s signature of the UN agreement denoting January 27 as
Holocaust Memorial Day, the foreign ministry issued a declaration in 2006 and
2007, no pronouncements were made in 2008 (see ASW 2007).
As in previous years, the Independent Cinema Group, with
the support of the Jewish community of Turkey, held a Holocaust cinema week in
Istanbul in April, during the week of Israel’s Yom Hashoah. Some leading
journalists invited to the gala night wrote about the event in their columns.
An exhibition of Holocaust photos was also set up in the Istanbul mall housing
Another project carried out, together with the History
Foundation and Bilgi University, took place on December 18, when a full-day
conference discussed the contributions made by Jewish German professors who
fled Nazi Germany to the development of modern Turkish universities.