Turkey’s Collateral Damage: Its Jews

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In a 2015 study, the Anti-Defamation League found that 35 million out of an adult population of 49 million Turks, or 71%, harbored antisemitic attitudes, compared to an average 49% in the entire Muslim world. Statistically speaking, a 22 percentage point difference from the average is a significant deviation. In Turkey’s case, the deviation is also empirically visible.

In this year’s Middle East clashes, as in the past several years, Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey globally championed the Palestinian cause. A jogger could be fined for breach of lockdown rules but the police welcomed thousands of protesters in front of Israeli diplomatic missions in Istanbul and Ankara. A couple set their car on fire in front of the Israeli Consulate building in Istanbul “in the name of our Muslim brothers who are tortured in Gaza.” This was said despite that it was actually Hamas — a terrorist group that, since 2007, has held the Palestinians hostage as human shields, both to protect its weapons and to show dead babies to the television cameras — that began firing 4,300 rockets into a country the size of New Jersey: Israel. The Israelis were not returning fire at the Palestinians, they were returning fire at the terrorist groups shooting at them: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “Why,” as the magazine Spiked asked, “won’t Israelis let themselves be killed?”

Erdoğan, referring to Jewish people, said on May 17: “It is in their disposition that they are only satisfied by sucking blood” — a comment that triggered a duel of words between Ankara and Washington.

The US Department of State replied:

“The United States strongly condemns President Erdogan’s recent anti-Semitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible.

“We urge President Erdogan and other Turkish leaders to refrain from incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence.”

In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry resorted to its usual denial: “Anti-Semitism has never existed in Turkish society, which respects the co-existence of different religions and beliefs.”

According to Reuters:

“Muslim countries must show a united and clear stance over Israel’s conflict with the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza, Turkey’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, said on Thursday [May 13], criticising world powers for condemning violence without acting.”

Meanwhile, Erdoğan, in a domestic propaganda mission, spoke with 20 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Angry Turks did not question what “action” their government did take, other than condemning “violence” and profiting from the dispute at the ballot box.

“Action”? In 2020, two-way trade between Turkey and Israel reached $6.2 billion, a 3.4-fold rise from 2002. Also in 2020, Turkey’s exports to Israel amounted to $4.7 billion, making Israel Turkey’s ninth-biggest export market. Fortunately, Erdoğan, too, has been “condemning violence without acting,” just the way he has criticized others for doing.

His social media trolls launched a campaign to deceive the average Turk into believing that Erdoğan was, in fact, “acting” (the average Turk is a seventh grade drop-out). A set of images featuring military vehicles was shared on social media with a claim that the Turkish army was about to save the Palestinians. The caption to one image, along with a poster in support of Palestine, reads: “Turkish Army on its way to Gaza #FreePalestinian #FreeGaza.”

The Turkish hypocrisy on the “loss of Muslim lives” was also a bit breezy. As Faith Quintero, the author of Loaded Blessings, wrote:

“And in a week in which an Islamic terror attack killed 232 people, including 85 schoolgirls, in Afghanistan, the world was more focused on a land dispute case in Israel, that has been grossly mischaracterized by politicians and media.”

The loss of 232 Muslim lives in Afghanistan did not make even a single column inch of news in the Turkish media.

Then there is the extremely sad case of Turkish Jews. Once again, their dwindling community, now at fewer than 15,000, has fallen hostage to Hamas’s violence. After the 2014 fighting between Israel and Hamas terrorists, Faruk Köse, a columnist for the Turkish daily Yeni Akit, wrote that the “Gaza Fund Contribution Tax” should apply to Turkish Jews as well as foreign Jews doing business in Turkey and any Turkish nationals with commercial ties to the Jewish state. He even suggested that the tax should apply to any company or business that maintains a partnership with a Turkish Jew. The penalty for failing to pay the tax, Köse proposed, should be the revocation of the Jew’s business license and the seizure of his property.

Then came other news, this time in Şalom. The main organization representing Turkish Jews, the Jewish Confederation of Turkey, had criticized the U.S. State Department for accusing Erdoğan of using antisemitic rhetoric. “On the contrary,” the Confederation tweeted cautiously, “he [Erdoğan] has always been constructive, supportive and encouraging toward us.”

The collateral damage in this latest round of fighting are Turkey’s Jews. Afraid to speak up, they must show solidarity with Erdogan out of fear — hostages in yet another campaign of violence.

Part of Erdoğan’s anger had been directed at U.S. President Joe Biden. “Today we have witnessed Biden’s approval of weapons [sales] to Israel,” Erdoğan said. “You [Biden] are writing history with bloody hands.” Erdoğan’s remarks came as Biden’s administration approved the potential sale of $735 million in precision-guided munitions to Israel.

Once again, it is wartime for Palestinian terrorists, a wake-up call for the usual Turkish hostility, and hard times for the few thousand Turkish Jews squashed in between the bitter truth and their fear of a potentially dangerous autocrat.


Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey’s leading journalists, was recently fired from the country’s most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Source: Gatestone Institute. 

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