I recently published an op-ed piece in Haaretz about antisemitism in Turkey which can be found here. This is the second such piece I have authored about antisemitism in Turkey, only this time I provide different examples and offer a more contemporary context.
Unfortunately, these pieces are just too easy to write. Conspiratorial notions of world Jewish power are not intimated in Turkey, they are overtly pronounced by public intellectuals and political figures especially by those who identify with the religious-nationalist and conservative camps (left wing antisemitism is also present albeit somewhat differently). As my recent article highlights, every time there is a political, economic or social crisis in Turkey, it almost goes without saying that there will be at least one public official or so-called intellectual who will point the finger at the Jews. Last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed George Soros “the famous Hungarian Jew” for being the secret puppet master behind the Gezi Park protests of 2013.
The case of anti-Semitism in Turkey is a rather paradoxical phenomenon when you consider that the once thriving Jewish population of Turkey today barely stands at 20,000. Turkey, in other words, is one of those countries where there is a significant presence of antisemitism but with very few actual Semites. This is not unlike antisemitism in the contemporary Muslim world where conspiratorial notions of world Zionism are rife, but the Jewish population virtually nil. This of course stands in stark contrast to the antisemitism of Russia and Europe in the centuries leading up to World War II where the notion of world Jewish conspiracy was born.
When faced with accusations of antisemitism, Turkey’s political elite like to respond by declaring their affection towards Turkey’s small Jewish community and remind anyone who will listen that it was the Ottoman Empire which welcomed the Jews of Spain after they were expelled in 1492, forgetting that when Sultan Bayezid II commented of the expulsion of Spain’s Jews that “You venture to call Ferdinand [of Spain] a wise ruler…he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!" In other words, the Ottoman Sultan had an economic motive for opening Turkey to Jews rather than a benevolent one.
Regardless, with a community that barely stands at 20,000 souls, less than 0.1% of the population, it shouldn’t be difficult for a country to have good communal relations with such a small minority, especially when one considers that the Jewish community is barely distinguishable by looks, language or nationality to the rest of the population and are law abiding, integrated and quiet. And still this tiny community has faced terrorist atrocities such as the 1986 Abu Nidal attack where Palestinian gunmen burst premises to slaughter 22 people while a service was taking place. There was also the 2003 Istanbul bombings in which two synagogues were bombed (including the Neve Shalom), this time by a home grown Turkish al-Qaeda faction which killed 23 people. Let’s not even get to threats against Jewish targets and violence and insults against individuals.
Still, the idea of a global pernicious Jewish conspiracy against Turkey remains as strong as ever, begging the question why do such notions continue to resonate within Turkish society, especially among ultra-nationalists and religious conservatives?
Leaving aside purely religiously inspired antisemitism, my answer to this perplexing question is that the Jewish scapegoat works in the Turkish context because of the of prevalence of religious-nationalism which emphasises that Turkey is predestined to be a both a great nation and the leader of the Islamic world. This is the view of leading cadres of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and also members of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and also has roots in the thinking of the Milli Gorus (National Outlook) tradition from which leading members of the AKP, Erdogan included, emerged. This was an Islamically rooted political movement which emphasised that it is Turkey’s natural place to lead the Muslim world and that the Turks are the warriors of Islam. Therefore, it would follow on that just like it Ottoman forbearers Turkey will once again have a powerful position in the world and it is currently in the process of achieving this aim.
But if Turkey is predestined to be a leading world power, the question looms why has this still not been realised? What is holding Turkey back? It is here that the international Jewish conspiracy makes a fine answer which allows the government and its supporters to point towards an easy scapegoat and avoid the difficult (but more constructive) path of self-criticism and accountability. This is why international Jewry is blamed for anything from the Gezi protests and the current financial crisis to Kurdish nationalism. What a pity.
In a 2010 essay in The Atlantic, the late great Christopher Hitchens offered an explanation for the prevalence of anti-Semitism. He argued that it was the Jewish rejection of the false prophets Jesus and Muhammed.
The traditional story goes that not only had the Sanhedrin rejected the teachings of Jesus, but they insisted, one could say lobbied, that the Roman governor of Judea crucify him. This act of deicide would become the justification for centuries of persecution, expulsions, murder and genocide by Christians against the Jews.
Centuries later, in the far corners Arabia a new religion was espoused by Mohammed who claimed to be the final messenger of God. Not only did very few Jews join Mohammed’s new faith, but the respected Jewish tribes in and around the oasis city of Medina shunned the exiled Meccan merchant. Mohammed and his followers would later take revenge and slaughter Arabia’s Jews. As the new religion expanded into Asia, North Africa and even Europe, the Jewish communities of these lands were given an inferior status. They were tolerated as ‘people of the book’. In a process which intensified after the 1948 Palestine War, the Jews of the Middle East were largely expelled.
But Jesus and Mohammed were not the only prophets who were perceived to be rejected by the Jews. We should not rule out the perception that through action and deed Jews rejected the enlightenment era political economist Karl Marx. Now Marx was of course himself was a baptised Jew. Not only were many of his followers Jewish but so were generations of Marxist philosophers, politicians, sociologists and political scientists. You’re probably listing some of them in your head right now. You might also be formulating a challenge based on the idea that much of the anti-Semitism of the radical right, both then and now, often depicts the Jew and Communist as one and the same. Sure, I’ll grant you these points, but remember I am talking about the perception of rejection rather than actual.
There is a thread in anti-Semitic discourse, repeated increasingly by some in the far Left, that associates Jews with Zionism, which is made powerful through Jewish control of international finance. Much of this this narrative emanates from Soviet propaganda which adopted traditional anti-Semitic motifs that associated Jews with being international in outlook, unpatriotic in worldview and purveyors of bourgeois capitalism. Public state-sponsored attacks were often directed against “rootless” or “homeless cosmopolitans,” a euphemism for Jews if ever there was one. The story of anti-Semitism in Communist Russia is well known - the persecution of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the fabricated Doctor’s Plot, the unofficial quotas in government positions. In these cases, the idea of the Jew being cosmopolitan, unpatriotic and bourgeois were central.
However, Soviet anti-Semitic propaganda also took the guise of anti-Zionism. Again, borrowing from classic anti-Semitism, it linked the international and unpatriotic cosmopolitan Jew to Israel and global financial conspiracy. In 1967, after the failure of Russia’s Arab clients to defeat Israel, the Young Communist League, stated that Israel was backed by "an invisible but huge and mighty empire of financiers and industrialists.” In other words, Jews. This was just one typical example of Soviet propaganda which was disseminated after 1967 near and far and regurgitated over again. Indeed, this is the very image that was conjured by street artist Mear One whose mural was defended by the leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn a couple of years ago.
As Michael Segalov explains, the imagery of the mural borrows from the Russian Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a malicious and fictitious tract purporting a conspiratorial cabal of powerful Jews to plan and scheme world domination. In the mural, the image of the crooked nosed and bearded Jew counting money is telling, as are other images associated with conspiracy theories such as the Illuminati. Taken together with the depictions of the Jewish Rothschild’s financier, the message in the iconography is unmistakeable. Jewish capital/international Zionism/the Jewish Lobby lurks behind the shadows, pulling the levers of international policy for its own benefit or for Israel. Had the mural been painted in, say, 2007, prominent Jewish Neo-Conservatives such as Leo Straus, Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz might have been added to the scene.
These images are the legacy of Soviet anti-Semitism. And as we have seen, they have been picked up by some in the radical Left (and by Islamist movements). They depict the Jew as the hidden hand behind the evils of global capitalism and colonialism. In other words, the Jews are a secretive force fighting the realization of historical materialism. By action and deed they are the ultimate enemies of Marxism.
Jeremy Corbyn, who described the visceral anti-Semitic Hezbollah and Hamas as his friends, wasted the opportunity to stamp out anti-Semitic currents within his party in 2016. Back then alarm bells starting ringing after his allies such as Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah and Jackie Walker made shocking anti-Jewish statements. Instead to tackling the problem head on, Corbyn enlisted lawyer and civil-right activists Shami Chakrabarti to investigate the matter. But as is well known, Chakrabarti whitewashed the inquiry. Soon after she was suspiciously awarded with a Labour peerage and took a seat in the House of Lords. Meanwhile, Jackie Walker, who said that Jews were financiers of the sugar and slave trade, went on to create a one-person stage show about her apparent victimisation and received standing ovations by a hard Left audience.
There were scores of anti-Semitic incidents which took place in 2017 and 2018 in the Labour Party. These including Labour council candidates asking what good have Jews done for the world and demands that the existence of the Holocaust be allowed to be questioned. When the anti-Semitism debate resurfaced after Luciana Berger MP asked for answers for Corbyn’s endorsement of the aforementioned mural, she received a tirade of attacks.
It was very telling that Corbyn’s supporters said that the claims of anti-Semitism are nonsense and part of a nefarious plot against Corbyn. In other words, it’s all just another Jewish conspiracy. In their cult-like following of their leader, the “Corbynistas” will no doubt continue to believe that this is just one big conspiracy against their saviour. Another case of the Jewish scorn for a prophet.
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