Turkey: Anti-Semitism was widespread in 2020

Many leading figures—from government authorities to political opposition and the media—spread Jew-hatred in a country that is a NATO member and a candidate for European Union membership.

A campaign poster in Istanbul's Taksim Square promoting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's reelection. It reads: “Istanbul is Ready, Target 2023.”  Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A campaign poster in Istanbul's Taksim Square promoting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's reelection. It reads: “Istanbul is Ready, Target 2023.” Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Uzay Bulut
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. She is currently a research student at the MA Woodman-Scheller Israel Studies International Program of the Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

“The Holocaust story is exaggerated,” “Israel does not get enough of blood and wealth,” “Jews kidnapped Christian children and performed rituals with their blood,” “Jews has sent coronavirus to Turkey to exterminate Turks” …

Those were some of the Jew-hating statements publicly made in Turkey in 2020—by authors, newspapers, members of the public and even the president of the country.

Anti-Semitic acts were also common in Turkey during the past year. Among them was the selling of Hitler’s Mein Kampf at a discount at a bookstore, T-shirts adorned with Nazi symbols and newspapers claiming that Jews control the United States.

These incidents were brought to light by Avlaremoz, a Turkish news website that covers Jewish-related issues. It conducted its annual “most anti-Semitic incidents of the year” survey for 2020 and revealed the results on Jan. 1. The following are Turkey’s most anti-Semitic events, ranked from 1 to 10, according to the survey:

    1. Hüsnü Mahalli, a Syrian-Turkish writer and journalist who lives in Turkey, denied the Holocaust in his 2020 book Palestine Is Mine. He falsely claims that that gas chambers did not exist during the Holocaust, that these places were infirmaries for Jews with typhus, that Zyklon B gas used during that period was medicine for typhus, and that “only a few hundred thousand” Jews were murdered and not 6 million.
    2. Speaking at a meeting on Jan. 31, 2020, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Jews should not be supported. Blasting the Mideast peace plan that was presented by former President Donald Trump to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he told Turkey’s chief rabbi to take a stance against Israel.

During his speech, Erdoğan called Israel “a pirate, cruel and insatiable,” and apparently forgetting that the Palestinians had been offered a state three times and each time turned the offer down, opposed the idea that Jews should have a state of their own:

“We never recognize and accept this plan that will destroy Palestine. Israel, which was established in a pirate way on Palestinian lands, has reached its present borders unjustly and unlawfully. The eyes of the cruel ones do not get enough of blood and wealth. Israel does not get enough of these things either. They are trying to put into effect this plan, which means the annexation of Palestinian lands. Now, without any shame, they are trying to deprive Palestine [of a state], including the West Bank.”

Erdoğan also condemned those who befriend and support Jews, whom he referred to as “those with a kippah on.”

“When we look at the attitude of Islamic countries, I feel sorry for us. First of all, you, Saudi Arabia. You have been silent. When will you speak up? The Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi administrations. They join [the peace initiative] and give applause. Shame on you! How will those clapping hands account for this treacherous step? Those sitting with kippahs on their heads [Jews] applaud and they [Muslims] applaud, as well. Tell me who your friend is and I will tell you who you are. The key to peace is in Jerusalem today, as it has been for thousands of years. Anyone who encourages Israel is responsible for the dire consequences that will occur.”

3. Avlaremoz reported in March that a Turkish company named Tshirthane, supplied Nazi-themed T-shirts and sold them through intermediaries such as e-commerce sites Hepsiburada, N11, GittiGidiyor, Trendyol and çiçeksepeti.

The Nazi-themed T-shirts that were offered for sale on the Internet drew negative reactions on social media. The companies then apologized and announced they had stopped selling the products.

4. Anti-Semitic statements were also made by opposition political leaders. During the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Assembly, convened on Feb. 11, 2020, İbrahim Özkan, the deputy chairman of the opposition IYİ (Good) Party, made a statement that encouraged anti-Semitism, as his party often does.

Trying to criticize Erdoğan, Özkan said, “My leader [of his party] has no Jewish courage award on his neck.”

In this statement, Özkan was referring to the “Courage to Care Award” presented to then-prime minister Erdoğan in 2005 by the Anti-Defamation League to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era such as Selahattin Ülkümen, the Turkish consul-general on the island of Rhodes. According to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Ülkümen saved approximately 50 Jews from certain death in Rhodes, which was under German occupation in 1944. The award has been frequently used in Turkish politics in anti-Semitic attacks against Erdoğan.

Avlaremoz notes: “To associate Erdogan with the Jews in an attempt to denigrate him by using this award has become a tactic of both the CHP [the main opposition Republican People’s Party] members such as Muharrem Ince and many Good Party members including Meral Akşener, the head of the party. In addition to using the award lie, the Good Party is in a pioneering position in humiliating and hating Jews. Since the establishment of the Good Party, many hateful statements [targeting Jews] have been made.”

The parliamentary deputy, Lütfü Türkkan, for instance, came up with a phrase “to become Jewish” and tweeted a video of an upscale event complaining that “there is a group that we call Protestant Muslims who live in luxury by getting rich with unfair income; these people have mentally become Jewish.” Türkkan and his Iyi Party to this day have failed to issue an apology.

5. Turkey’s pro-government Akit TV reported in June on a documentary about Turkish Jews broadcasted on +90, the Turkish-language YouTube channel of the BBC, France24, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America. Akit TV, notorious for its Jew-hating reporting, trimmed, distorted and cherry-picked parts of the documentary to further spread antisemitism in Turkey. Sentences and images in the documentary were cut and the statements of the Jewish interviewees living in Turkey were altered in an attempt to make Jews a target. Among the Turkish Jews targeted were lawyer Betsy Penso, scholar Rifat Bali and Ivo Molinas, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish weekly Şalom, among others.

6. The pro-government newspaper Yeni Akit published a report repeating the “blood libel” and “the barrel with needles” lies that caused widespread Jew-hatred and persecution in medieval and early modern history.

According to Yeni Akit, however, the torture device called “barrel with a needle” was used by Jews in these ritual murders. The newspaper also labeled Ottoman Jews as “murderers and perverts.” It wrote:

“According to some historians, Pesah [Passover] festivals were periods of horror in Europe every year when young children disappeared. … This perverse custom is one of the reasons why Jews were expelled from their countries. Especially in Spain, blood-drinking incidents took place many times and these events created great unrest among the people. Countless children disappeared, and some of the corpses were found in a state of blood completely drawn from their bodies.

Through these false claims, Yeni Akit blames the Jews for the persecution and massacres committed against them and distorts the historical facts surrounding Jewish persecution in Central and Western Europe in the medieval period.

7. A video posted on IMC Haber24’s Twitter account in March showed passengers in a minibus claiming Jews brought coronavirus to Turkey. The driver claimed that all pandemic outbreaks, from AIDS to Ebola, were created by pharmaceutical companies. The conversation continued as follows:

Driver: Whose are the most pharmaceutical companies?

Passenger 1: They belong to the rich.

Driver: To the Jews.

Passenger 2: [Jews] would do anything to exterminate the Turks.

Passenger 3: Not only Turks. They [Jews] will do anything to bring the world to its knees.

Driver: Jews are a cursed race already.

This is an echo of Islamic scripture, which labels all kafirs (unbelievers) such as Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and others as “cursed.”

The Center for the Study of Political Islam International explains that the Koran defines the kafir and says that the kafir is hated (40:35), mocked, (83:34), punished (25:77), beheaded (47:4), confused (6:25), plotted against (86:15), terrorized (8:12), annihilated (6:45), killed (4:91), crucified (5:33), made war on (9:29), ignorant (6:111), evil (23:97), disgraced (37:18), a partner of Satan (25:55), unclean (9:28) and cursed (33:60), among other things.

“Even from just this conversation among anti-Semitic conspirators in a minibus in Turkey it is not difficult to estimate what kind of hateful ideas are formulated across Turkey and what an unconscionably hateful mentality prevails in the country,” notes Avlaremoz.

Anti-Semitic posts across Twitter have been widespread since the outbreak of the coronavirus. “This hate not only manifests itself on Twitter,” states Avlaremoz. “People do not hesitate to blame and target Jews for the disease in public and in public transport as well,” and adds:

“In such an environment, a passenger’s trying to defend the Jews by saying things such as ‘I am a Jew. What does it [coronavirus] have to do with us?’ or ‘That is nonsense’ is not possible at all, and it could even be dangerous for the Jews.”

8. On May 4, a pro-government Turkish magazine, Gercek Hayat, published a special edition falsely alleging that some leading Jewish public figures such as Turkey’s Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva, businessman Ishak Alaton, Professor Henri Barkey and the former director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, helped stage the July 15, 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan.

Following this attempt, the Turkish government blamed the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers. A state of emergency was declared and a massive purge targeting tens of thousands of people began throughout the country.

9. In October, Avlaremoz reported that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was on sale at a discount at a bookstore in Istanbul. The Turkish versions of Mein Kampf, reprinted 70 years after the cancellation of the rights to the book, do not contain any warnings about anti-Semitism or Nazi propaganda on their covers or contents. Most of these books continue to be sold for approximately 20 TL (around $3) on the Internet or on the shelves of Turkish bookstores.

As Turkish Jewish scholar Rifat Bali pointed out, books such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The International Jew by Henry Ford that “form the basic texts for anti-Semites the world over, are perennial bestsellers” in Turkey.

10. On Nov. 6, the Islamist Miswak magazine published an anti-Semitic cartoon claiming that Jews control the United States. In the cartoon, two Jews discussing the U.S. elections say that no matter who wins the election, Jews (depicted in suits and with long noses) will be in control. In the room where they are speaking there is a menorah, a symbol of the Jews, and the eyed pyramid, the symbol of “Illuminati” conspiracy theories. Miswak has published some hateful, anti-Semitic cartoons before as well. In one of them, for instance, the magazine blamed Jews for abolishing the Ottoman caliphate, destroying Ottoman unity and introducing the Latin alphabet to Turkey.

Sadly, anti-Semitism still exists not only in Turkey but in many places around the world. But what makes Turkey, a NATO member and candidate for European Union membership, different from other cases is that many leading figures of the country—from government authorities to political opposition and the media—engage in and spread Jew-hatred. Constantly exposed to such hateful propaganda, many segments of Turkish society appear to blindly follow it.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. She is currently a research student at the MA Woodman-Scheller Israel Studies International Program of Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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