- Turkish intellectuals have always taken a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance. Islamists associate the “Palestine question” with alleged Jewish involvement in the rise of Turkish secularism. Leftists see Israel as an imperialist state and an extension of American hegemony in the Middle East. Comparable themes are found among nationalist intellectuals.
- Turkish reactions to Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and 2009 war in Gaza often spilled over into anti-Semitism. Newspaper columnists, some of them academics, belonging to the various ideological streams helped fan popular sentiment against Israel and Jews. Israel was said to be exploiting Holocaust guilt and the services of the “American Jewish lobby” to further its own nefarious aims.
- Turkish approaches to the “Palestine question” rarely venture outside the clichés of Turkish popular culture. Turkish publishing houses providing translated works on the issue are careful not to run afoul of popular sentiment. The net result is that both Turkish columnists and their readers utilize only limited sources on the conflict that are preponderantly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.
- Any attempt by the Turkish Jewish leadership to confront Turkish society on combating anti-Semitism is likely to backfire and even further exacerbate the problem. Given the reality, the only options left for Turkey’s Jewish community are to either continue living in Turkey amid widespread anti-Semitism or to emigrate.
One of the most illuminating methods of explaining and accurately describing present-day Turkish anti-Semitism and the reasons for its widespread nature is to examine the reactions among Turkish intellectuals and the Turkish press to various Israeli military actions in recent years. Surveying articles by Turkish columnists during Israel’s most recent military operations, the summer 2006 war with Hizballah in Lebanon and the more recent Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, will shed light in this regard. Particularly significant are those columnists who are considered opinion leaders, some of whom are academics as well. Understanding the reactions of these opinion makers, however, requires an overview of the attitudes of much of the Turkish intelligentsia toward what is known as the “Palestine question.”
The Influence of Islamist, Leftist, and Nationalist Intellectuals In Turkey
The Islamist Community
Turkish intellectuals holding either Islamist or leftist positions have always taken a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance.
For much of the Islamist intelligentsia, references to Palestine, a former Ottoman province, bring to mind events from the last-and in their minds, darkest-years of the empire. These include Zionist leader Theodor Herzl’s request in 1901 from Sultan Abdülhamid II for permission to settle Jewish immigrants in this territory and the Sultan’s refusal; and, about a decade later, the presence of the Salonician Jew Emmanuel Carasso, a member of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), in the delegation notifying the Sultan of his removal and exile to Salonica, where he would live out his remaining years in the villa of the Jewish family Allatini.
Although these might appear unrelated events, the Islamists see a direct causative line from Abdülhamid II’s rejection of Herzl’s request to his later removal from the throne. In this view, the Young Turk Revolution-and more specifically, Abdülhamid’s forced abdication after the failed counterrevolution of April 1909-were payback, delivered at the hands of Jewish and crypto-Jewish cabals secretly manipulating the CUP. Nor, from the Islamist perspective, does the revenge-taking end with the Sultan’s abdication.
They believe that the final stages of the retribution were the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 at the hands of Turkish nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), who originated in the “cursed city” of Salonica and is widely thought among Islamists to have been a Dönme, a descendant of the Jewish devotees of Sabbatai Sevi who followed him into a nominal conversion to Islam but continued to practice their own heretical brand of Judaism in secret, and the “placing of the Turkish people in the straightjacket of secularism with the intent of debasing it.”
Indeed, because of this widespread conviction a book by Soner Yalçın, a journalist for the mainstream Hürriyet newspaper, claiming in short that the Turkish Republic has always been dominated and governed by Dönmes has become a bestseller and sold close to two hundred thousand copies.
The Islamist mindset views Israel as a “robber state,” which divested the Palestinians of their homeland. For the Islamists, Israel was born of a revolution that they see as Jewish-directed and carried out for Jewish aims, and both the secular Turkish Republic and Israel were established by the Dönme Mustafa Kemal.
More broadly, the Islamists see Zionism and its political manifestation, Israel, as merely one branch of the overarching plan for world domination set forth in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the classical anti-Semitic work that has become a bestseller in Turkey among various conspiracy books whose main theme is Zionist domination of the world. Zionism, from this standpoint, is a satanic and expansionist ideology that threatens not only the Arab world but Turkey itself.
There are several other complementary themes as well. One of these is the abiding belief that during the Conference of Lausanne following Turkey’s successful War of Independence, Haim Nahum Efendi, the last Ottoman chief rabbi and an adviser to Turkey’s delegation to the talks, somehow persuaded Ismet Paşa, the head of the Turkish delegation and future Prime Minister to promise the Great Powers that, in exchange for granting the new Turkish state’s demands, the Caliphate would be abolished and a secular regime would be imposed on Turkish society.
Another Islamist claim centers on Moiz Kohen, a Turkish Jew and fervent advocate of Kemalism, Turkish nationalism, and the Kemalist regime’s policy of “Turkification,” which called for all non-Muslims and non-Turkish speakers to abjure their particular ethnoreligious identities and become part of the greater Turkish nation. Kohen himself Turkified his name to Tekin Alp and in 1936 published a treatise, Kemalizm, under this new name. Islamists believe that like Mustafa Kemal and Haim Nahum Efendi, Kohen was a “Shari’a-hating Jew.”
As evidence they often cite the title of one of the chapters of Kemalizm, “To Hell with the Shari’a” (Kahrolsun Şeriat). The Islamists also hates Turkish nationalism which in essence is a secular ideology as they believe that nationalism is an ideology not compatible with Islamism the later perceiving all Muslims as one people (ümmet). For this reason they believe that Turkish nationalism with its secular character is dividing the Muslim ümmet. Again since Moiz Kohen was also an ideologue of nationalism Islamists thought that Kohen has “planted the virus of nationalism” within Turkish society in the hope of destroying the unity of the Islamic nation.
In the same line of thinking Islamists points to another Jew as another actor who promoted nationalism with the aim of destroying the Muslim ümmet. This widespread view-utterly without foundation-is that an Italian Jew named Lazzaro Franko, who as one of the period’s leading furnishing suppliers was a supplier to the Sultan’s Palace of Yıldız, donated $200,000 to the nationalist Turkish Hearths (Türk Ocakları) organization in the 1920s for the construction of their headquarters building in Ankara, in return for which his photograph was hung in this building.
The connecting thread is that all of the actors involved were or are believed to have been Jewish. The Islamists use this as ostensible evidence that the sole obstacle to transforming the Turkish Republic into a Turkish Islamic Republic is the Jews, and particularly the crypto-Jewish Dönme who are believed to control Turkey behind the scenes.
Turkey’s leftist intelligentsia tends to see Israel as an “imperialist and expansionist state” and “an extension of American hegemony in the Middle East.” Hence, it views the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of “solidarity with those oppressed by the imperialists”-namely, the Palestinians.
This view has its origins in the political and ideological struggles of the 1970s. During those years leftist militants who dreamed of carrying out a Marxist revolution in Turkey often joined the PLO so as to receive training in armed struggle, even taking part in attacks against Israel. Some lost their lives in the process or in Israeli counterstrikes against PLO camps, while others returned to Turkey.
Some of those erstwhile militants are now opinion leaders in Turkey. Just as for the Islamist community, for the Turkish Left Zionism is an aggressive ideology that fosters anti-Semitism. An illuminating example of the anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli sentiment is a special 2004 edition of the Turkish leftist journal Birikim that was devoted to anti-Semitism; it described Zionism and anti-Semitism as “two sides of the same coin.”
In the same issue Ümit Kıvanç, previously a columnist for the liberal-leftist daily Radikal and nowadays for Taraf of the same tendency, wrote in an article that “the people who actually govern Israel are a band of rogues” and emphasized that “everybody who wants to be a member of humanity must work for the abolition of the state of Israel in its present form. Because the state of Israel has also captured the Jewish identity.”
The Nationalists and Neonationalists
Anti-Semitism in Turkey is encountered not only among the Islamists and leftists but also among the nationalist and neonationalist streams, which in recent years have declared their hostility to the European Union, the United States, and Israel. The anti-Semitism in this camp stems mainly from the popularity that Mein Kampf enjoys among its members as an “ideological handbook.” The Turkish translation of Mein Kampf has indeed become a bestseller in the country and can be purchased in some of the largest supermarket chains and bookstores.