Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama met for an hour and a half at the NATO summit in Wales last week. One sentence in the brief White House statement issued after the meeting caught attention: “The president and President Erdogan also discussed the importance of building tolerant and inclusive societies and combating the scourge of anti-Semitism.”
After Israel’s latest Gaza attack, anti-Semitism has skyrocketed in Turkey. The US administration is not the only party concerned with the rise of anti-Semitism there. In Turkey, the nongovernmental organization Say Stop to Racism expressed its concern about the magnitude of this issue, stating:
“Racist propaganda that has reached the point of asking Jewish citizens of the Republic of Turkey to leave the country, threats against synagogues by some anti-Semitic circles and the silence of public officials on such threats are not compatible with the rule of law. … This aggressive attitude that exceeded all limits, even setting a deadline for Jewish citizens to leave the country and encouraging action and attacks against synagogues, didn’t get the support of the public. It became a petition-signing campaign to annul the citizenship of Jews who have dual citizenship. The campaign, which gave the impression that it was seeking the punishment of 'murderers guilty of crimes against humanity,' in reality seeks to eliminate the right of our Jewish citizens to live as human beings in this country.”
Umut Ozkirimli, a member the faculty of Lund University, says Israel’s Gaza operation ignited a racist and anti-Semitic state of mind in Turkey. He points to a study by research group Gonzo Insight that reports, “Between July 17 and July 18, 27,309 Twitter users tweeted 30,928 times in Turkish supporting Hitler’s genocide against the Jews."
While Israel was bombing the Gaza Strip, there were calls to boycott Jewish products in Turkey that reached such absurd levels as asking people not to buy a book by Jewish writer Mario Levi.
Those who think these racist messages and hysterical campaigns are the work of fringe groups are wrong. Some of these anti-Semitic narratives were voiced by parliamentarians and academics.
For example, the shocking language of hate used by popular Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Samil Tayyar illustrates how easy it is to voice anti-Semitism. In one tweet, Tayyar says, "May your race vanish and may you always have your Hitler." There was no disciplinary action against him, not even a word from his party to distance itself from the inflammatory language.
Associate professor Ali Ihsan Goker, head of the physics department of Bilecik University, threatened Louis Fishman, who had written an article on anti-Semitism in Turkey for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Goker tweeted, “Treblinka will be ready soon. Constructing the railway to transport Jews at the moment.” Treblinka was a concentration camp where more than 730,000 Jews were massacred.
All these events are causing serious concern in anti-racist circles, especially among minorities and Turkish citizens of Jewish descent. An advertisement penned by the "Jews of Turkey" and published in print newspapers and online best expressed these concerns. The massive pressure on Turkish Jews over Israel’s attacks on Gaza is immediately clear. The declaration reads, "No citizen of this country is required to give an account of, comment on or express views about events in which they had no part that happen in other corners of the earth. As such, the Jewish community is not required to express its views on any subject. Regardless, a community of 20,000 people cannot express a single view. The Jewish community is no more monolithic than any other. Within it, there are people of diverse views. It is not dominated by one single view. Just as the entire Turkish nation cannot be held responsible for the brutality of [IS] just because there are some Turkish members, the Turkish Jewish community cannot be held responsible for what Israel is doing. To hold an entire people responsible for the actions of a state is racism, and we want this to be known.”
Nevertheless, these mostly leftist and liberal Jewish intellectuals could not refrain from expressing their views of Israel’s actions in Gaza, writing, "We are stating that we are against Israel’s policy in Gaza not because we are of Jewish origin, but because we are human."
Like these Jewish intellectuals, I am also against what Israel did in Gaza. I believe that some of the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza were war crimes and crimes against humanity, and those responsible should be tried in the International Criminal Court. But no action by a state or its army can justify racist and anti-Semitic narratives or intolerance.
As so diplomatically expressed by the White House statement after the Obama-Erdogan meeting, the scourge of anti-Semitism that has reached alarming levels in Turkey must be contained.