May 4, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 904

Antisemitism in the Turkish Media (Part II) - Turkish Intellectuals Against Antisemitism

May 4, 2005
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 904

Antisemitism in the Turkish media targets not only Jews in general, but also the Turkish citizens who are members of the small Jewish community of about 20,000 people. Increasingly, newspapers are accusing Turkish Jews of disloyalty, of betrayal, and of having hidden and sinister agendas. The Turkish media has recently blamed the Jews for espousing secularism and for espionage against Turkey.

This antisemitism, in which Turkish nationalism and radical Islam find common ground, is of growing concern to some Turkish intellectuals. The following report addresses the views and concerns of those intellectuals:

Turkish Intellectuals Petition: "Zero Tolerance for Antisemitism"

In its October 2004 issue, the socialist Turkish magazine Birikim published a petition titled "Zero Tolerance for Antisemitism." The petition was signed by Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals (see Appendix). The following are excerpts: [1]

"As long as a danger is not properly articulated, it cannot be fought against. On the contrary: Vague words only conceal the evil.

"We, the undersigned, wish to draw attention to the ever-present and steadily increasing antisemitism in Turkey, and to share our observations and concerns with all those who may be interested.

"The various historical examples of racist violence and discrimination against non-Turkish, non-Muslim, non-Sunni citizens of the Turkish Republic have, albeit to a limited extent, been pointed out and criticized, whereas antisemitism remains, with few exceptions, a subject which is met with silence, underestimation, or outright denial.

"The Twilight Zone

"[…] Publications have become vehicles for promoting confusion regarding concepts such as Nazism, fascism, Zionism, the Holocaust, genocide, etc., emptying these of their [true] content and blurring their differences. They debase the Holocaust by stripping it of its historical uniqueness, thus giving a green light to Holocaust denial.

"The historical specifics of antisemitism, its geographical pervasiveness, and its all-encompassing class, social, and cultural basis deserve to be dealt with as a separate issue. What we wish to point out is that a large sector of the Left, including human rights circles in Turkey, fail to include in their agenda antisemitism as a threat in its own right – and when forced to confront it, merely subsume it under the rubric of discrimination, and ignore its vehemence.

"This situation illustrates the fact that antisemitism is not limited to saluting Hitler but emerges in many different guises.

"Animosity Flows Through Open Channels

"It seems obvious that when people cannot make sense of a complex world, they need to create and isolate 'enemy others.' Historically Jews have been, and still are, the target of that 'need,' and for this there is a name!

"Antisemitism today is most actively perpetrated by the Islamist press, a large segment of which has gone so far as to recklessly praise Adolf Hitler for his 'foresight.' Concurrently, there has been an unprecedented array of publications and campaigns against so-called 'Sabbetaists,' [2] whose Jewish roots are traced and emphasized in a manner reminiscent of the Nazi obsession with creating a 'pure race,' targeting them as the evil-intentioned members of a secret sect which is integral to the 'Jewish plot to dominate the world.'

"This rising tide of antisemitism has been allowed to flow unhindered in the channels of the Islamist as well as the mainstream media, and to settle into Turkish daily life and discourse. It is now second nature to find a 'Jewish finger' under every stone, and to invent various conspiracy theories with 'the Jew' as the villain.

"We hereby proclaim our opposition to this unquestioned and pervasive pattern of antisemitic assumptions, and [likewise proclaim] our determination to attain ZERO TOLERANCE OF ANTISEMITISM, to become informed, to object, to write, to draw, to raise our voice, and to maintain solidarity with all who feel and think likewise."

Liberal Daily - "The National Ideology: Antisemitism"

Nese Duzel, of the left-of-center, liberal daily Radikal, interviewed Professor Ihsan Dagi and wrote the following in her column under the title "National Ideology: Antisemitism": [3]

"[…]We spoke to Prof. Dr. Ihsan Dagi of Middle East Technical University, Department of International Relations, who has published many books and articles on [subjects like] the Islamic identity, Westernization, global politics, human rights and who is an executive board member of the 'Liberal Thought Association'[…]:

Nese Duzel: " Turning to foreign issues: AKP [4] has an allergy to Israel. Is this because of the aggressive behavior of the Sharon government, or is it coming from [some] hidden antisemitic feelings?"

Professor Ihsan Dagi: "Recently in Turkey, great [political] gains are being made by [anti-] Sabbetaist, [anti-]Jewish and [anti-] Dönme [propaganda]. Those who fear everyone and everything, the nationalistic-conservative circles, Milli Gorus [5] [followers], pro-Third World Kemalists [and] leftists, [and] state- and security-centered sectors are all coming together thanks to the Sabbetai-related stories [conspiracy theories]. A new [national] alliance is being created. This is a search for a new national unity in Turkey. The conservative, religious segments that were alienated from the state-centered [secular] factors because of the February 28 [military intervention] are now joined with the cement of anti-Sabbetaist rhetoric."

Duzel:"Isn't this antisemitism?"

Professor: "Of course this [is] antisemitism. It is a new and broad alliance against the Jews and the Donme, who are [allegedly] secretly plotting not only in the world but also in Turkey, who control Turkey and who need to be stopped. […] In this alliance you have groups from AKP, the Left, Kemalists, CHP, [6] Alevi, a whole world of people."

Duzel:"What are they trying to achieve by this antisemitic alliance?"

Professor: "In order for politics not to be reshaped by social dynamics, and to prevent the pluralization of the country, they claim that some people exist among us who are plotting and laying traps against Turkey. By doing so, they attain unity and homogeneity. They say, 'Look, there are people among us with [sinister] plans. Despite our differences, whether we are Kemalists, or religious, or leftist, we must unite.' That is, a national unity ideology [attained] by Sabbetai stories. […]"

Liberal Daily: "Turkey's Jews Aren't Dhimmis [7] in Need of Tolerance or Protection"

An article by Turkish intellectual Rifat Bali, [8] titled "(In)tolerance to Antisemitism," was published in the left-of-center, liberal daily Radikal-2 and in the January 2004 issue of the socialist, intellectual magazine Birikim. The following are translated excerpts: [9]

"[…] In the recent past, some […] events led Turks, with the help of the media, to face up to some disturbing realities within their society. The spotlight came on, but soon it went off, and the incidents were all but forgotten, either because the agenda changed, or because the investigations dragged on without conclusion. I fear that, similarly, the repugnant reality of antisemitism, which was always present which has always been present in Turkey and came undeniably to the fore in the [November 15, 2003] synagogue attacks, [10] will also soon be forgotten...

"(In)tolerance to Antisemitism

"In the aftermath of the violence suffered in Istanbul on Saturday, November 15, Turkish society had the opportunity to confront face to face the antisemitism which is incorporated in the political Islamic movement. However, the political leaders, the media, the intellectual elite, the Israeli government, […] the Chief Rabbi and the secular leaders in his entourage as the representatives of the Turkish-Jewish community, [all] seemed determined to ignore that opportunity. Everyone apparently shared the view of the conservative and nationalist columnist Taha Akyol, who two days after the attacks wrote in Milliyet, 'there has never been antisemitism in Turkey in its racist or religious sense.' [11]

"[…] In our day, a variety of racist and fascist conspiracy theories range from 'Mossad carried out the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers' and 'Sabbetaists are ruling Turkey together with the Zionists,' and all the way to [the allegation] that the [synagogue] attacks of November 15 were carried out by Mossad and Israel.

"Instead of criticizing Israel in rational and realistic ways, some have made a litany of hate-spewing words towards the Jews a part of their daily language, hiding behind the slogan, 'we are not antisemitic, we are anti-Zionists, criticizing Sharon's policies.' What are those [if not antisemites]?

"[…] In recent years, not only in the Islamic sector, but in virtually all ideological variants, we have seen incessant discussions on the topic of Dönmes [Sabbetaists], 'decoding' the names of individuals and 'exposing' them as 'Jews.' Isn't this behavior a provocation to violence for raging fanatics against innocent persons whose ancestors are 'presumed' to be Jewish?

"[…] The ones responsible for the November 15, 2003 violence are the government, the society, and the political, intellectual, cultural and media elite that turn a blind eye to these facts, and that do not enforce the relevant clauses of Turkish criminal law against such behavior. They shield themselves behind the argument of 'freedom of the press,' legitimize and elevate antisemitic writers as 'enlightened,' and refrain from stressing the antisemitic nature of the November 15 attacks, referring to them only as 'terrorism.'

"Every [Turkish] government since 1950 bears the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today. This is because they remained silent with regard to the hateful rhetoric against Jews, and took no steps to make the Jews feel like real Turkish citizens.

"Also responsible for this situation are the writers of yesteryears' 'religious', today's 'Islamist' media, and all 'opinion makers' who, since the establishment of the State of Israel, have incessantly and untiringly engaged in a rhetoric of hatred against Jews and continue to poison the minds of the future generations. […]

"Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan and the AKP government must publicly denounce [both] the antisemitic discourse of political Islam, from which he emerged and which he declared later to have abandoned, and those who insist on perpetuating such discourse.

"[…] Turkey's Jews are not dhimmis in need of the tolerance and the protection of the Muslim majority. They are citizens of the Republic of Turkey. […]"

An American Jewish Activist on Antisemitism in Turkey

Rusen Cakir of the mainstream Turkish daily Vatan interviewed Barry Jacobs, the American Jewish Committee's director of Strategic Studies in the Office of Government and International Affairs about antisemitism in Turkey. The following are excerpts: [12]

Vatan: "How do you assess the status of the Turkish-American relations?"

Barry Jacobs: "The relations are going through a difficult period. It would be exaggerated to say that this is a crisis, but in the past seven or eight months there have been serious problems. The American administration is disturbed by the increase in anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel, and antisemitic [trends] in Turkey, especially in the media."

Vatan: "We know you and the circles known as the 'Jewish lobby' as 'friends of Turkey.' Has this changed?"

Jacobs: "[…] The Jewish-American community has never lost the championship in 'support for Turkey' to anyone. These people [American Jews] who have defended Turkey's rights in the U.S. Congress and the administration are not [all] experts in foreign policy, but they do read the news and articles like the one by The Wall Street Journal editor Robert Pollock about the anti-Americanism in Turkey. Then they come to the Jewish organizations like ours and ask: 'Why are you still supporting that country?'"

Vatan: "Do you think anti-Americanism and antisemitism are at serious levels?"

Jacobs: "Yes, it's very grave. In fact, this is due to the recent rise in nationalism in Turkey. We see this nationalism in the Turkish military which has a very deeply rooted relationship with the American military, [as well as] in the government and all the political parties […]"


The petition was signed by the following (in alphabetical order):

Ridvan Akar, Taner Akçam, Dogan Akhanli, Mustafa Akyol, Ishak Alaton, Necmiye Alpay, Selim Amado, Çagatay Anadol, Nazmi Arif, David Arditi, Ergün Arslan, Hüseyin Aygül, Esin Ayral, Laleper Aytek, Rifat N. Bali, Beki Bardavid, Süleyman Bardavid, Ali Ihsan Basgül, Moiz Bayer, Lizi Behmoaras, Jacob Bensason, Jacques E. Botton, Nükte Devrim Bouvard, Cem Bozsahin, Fatma Mefkure Budak, Belgin Cengiz, Oral Çalislar, Hacer Çinar, Ahmet Dag, Hüseyin Dagdas, Gülder Demir, Hülya Demir, Aynur Demirdirek, Hülya Demirdirek, Seyda Demirdirek, Aycan Demirel, Fuat Dündar, Tevfit Erhat, Jak Esim, Jenny Eskinazi, Nesi Eskinazi, Yusuf Estroti, Mose Farsi, Hacer Yildirim Foggo, Çetin Gabay, Rezzan Gabay, Eli Gerson, Gamze Tokol Goldsman, Volkan Granit, Corry Görgü, Refik Güllü, Ayse Günaysu, David Hasday, Emintelel Isikli, Yürük Iyriboz, Aydan Kalaçlar, Dina Karako, Sema Karaoglu, Isa Karatas, Asude Kayas, Erdal Kaynar, Gülay Kiliçdogan, Ergun Kirlikovali, Sevil Kivan, Kürsad Kiziltug, Burçe Klaynman, Hayim I. Krespin, M. Mustafa Kulu, Ahmet Kurt, Jaan Latif, Recep Marasli, Ceki Medina, Amy Mills, Gül A. Minci, Avram Mizrahi, Eti Motola, Özcan Mutlu, Akin Olgun, Haluk Oral, Mordo Ovadya, Mentes Aziz Oz, Mahmut Esat Ozan, Ayse Öktem, Kerem Öktem, Ayse Önal, Canan Özadam, Gencer Özcan, Yelda Özcan, Mehmet Mihri Özdogan, Noyan Özkan, Ester Ruben, Murat Ruben, Rafael Sadi, Selim Salti, Defne Sandalci, Selim Sanje, Fatma Sayman, Melih Sisa, Semra Somersan, Haldun Süral, Nora Seni, M. Orhan Tarhan, Ülfet Tayli, Sirin Tekeli, Sule Toktas, Saime Tugrul, Süreyya Turhan, Akil Ulukaya, Momo Uzsinay, Nessim Weissberg, Deniz Yücel, Ragip Zarakolu, and Yaprak Zihnioglu.

[1] Birikin (Turkey), October 2004.

[2] The Sabbetaists ( Dönme) are descendants of the Jewish followers of a self-proclaimed messiah, Sabbetai Sevi (1626-1676), who was forced by the sultan to convert to Islam in 1666. They consider themselves Muslims and officially are recognized as such. Dönme is the Turkish word for 'convert' but it carries overtones of 'turncoat' as well.

[3] Radikal (Turkey), February 28, 2005.

[4] The ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party.

[5] Milli Gorus is the movement of political Islam started by N. Erbakan, a former prime minister whose government resigned because of the intervention by the Turkish military on February 28, 1997. His three consequent political parties were shut down. Their current political party is SP, Saadet (Felicity) Party. AKP and PM Erdogan are offspring of this movement.

[6] CHP (Republican People's Party) is the first political party of the modern Republic of Turkey, founded by M. Kemal Ataturk. This left-of-center, liberal, secularist party is currently the main opposition party.

[7] Dhimmi are non-Muslims who live in Islamic countries under Islamic law ( Shari'a ). They are protected under Islamic rules, yet are inferior, vulnerable, humiliated and degraded. (The modern, secular Republic of Turkey is not an Islamic country.)

[8] Bali, R.N. is a leading Turkish-Jewish historian/researcher who has published several books and articles on the history and the status of the Turkish Jews since the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.

[9] Radikal-2 (Turkey), November 23, 2003.

[10] On November 15, 2003 two major synagogues in Istanbul were bombed simultaneously by Turkish Islamic terrorists, killing 26 people and wounding hundreds, most of them Muslim Turks who were in the vicinity.

[11] Milliyet (Turkey), November 17, 2003.

[12] Vatan (Turkey), April 4, 2005.

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