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Testimonials

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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Though some members of the Jewish community in Turkey identify themselves first as Turks and then as Jews, many of them are suffering from intensified expressions of anti-Semitism in recent years. In a comprehensive new book entitled "Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism in Turkey" (Routledge, 2017), Dr. Efrat Aviv, an expert on Turkey from Bar-Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, reveals, in concurrence with Turkish academics, that this rise in anti-Semitism has occurred over the past decade and has been strengthened by the Turkish media, in books, entertainment and education. The book includes a broad range of information culled from personal interviews, as well as Turkish and Israeli research on the subject.

Dr. Aviv's book covers antisemitic history in Turkey from the Ottoman period through the establishment of the Turkish Republic, to the recent strengthening of the AK (Justice and Development) Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently was granted additional powers in the Turkish referendum. Dr. Aviv also analyzes Turkey's criticism during Israel's military operations and its influence on the rise of anti-Zionism and antisemitism from the Second Lebanon War in 2006 to Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The book also analyzes Turkish society's attitude towards Jews in comparison to other minorities, and looks at how other minorities examine Jews according to the history of the Jewish community in Turkish society and government.

Although the Turkish government has made attempts to encourage teaching about the Holocaust and the return of assets to minorities in Turkey, the book proves through a survey conducted in Turkey in 2012, that Erdogan and his anti-Zionist, and sometimes anti-Semitic remarks, strongly influence the rise in antisemitism in Turkey.

Specializing in Turkish studies, Ottoman history, Turkish Jewry, Islam, Islamic movements in Turkey, Sufism and Turkish politics, Dr. Efrat Aviv is a lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University, where she is also a Fellow at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. From 2011-2015 she was a Fellow at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA). Her publications include "Antisemitism in Turkey during Operation Protective Edge", "Erdogan's Turkey and America's Obama: US Policy in the 21st Century: Realities and Perceptions", "The Efraim Elrom Affair and US-Turkey Relations", "Caricatures in Turkey: From Abullhamid to Erdogan", and other books.

Key conclusions of the book:

A former member of parliament from the opposition party CHP claimed that antisemitism is, indeed, on the rise in Turkey, but the AKP government refrains from publishing relevant data about it in order to prevent public pressure and negative public opinion both domestically and abroad.

Antisemitism is prevalent in all sectors in Turkey, whether among the nationalist Islamists or the extreme left, but it seems that not only the extreme left and right support antisemitism; CHP does not do enough to back the combat of antisemitism. For example, when Erdogan called a demonstrator during Operation Protective Edge a “spawn of Israel”, not one member of the opposition condemned it. Moreover, five members of the opposition were present during a hate march held in Ankara in front of the Israeli embassy at the time. This is an indicator that antisemitism in Turkey will never disappear, even if AKP ceases to maintain power.

There are quite a few "antisemitism deniers" in Turkey, some of whom are local Jews who think that anti-Zionism or anti-Israel sentiments exist in Turkish government and society, but not antisemitism. Others see antisemitism as just another color in the rainbow of hatred and racism in Turkey, such as discrimination against other minority groups, violence against Alawites, exclusion of LGBT members, violence against women, etc. Yet antisemitism is a unique phenomenon in Turkey and is not part of xenophobia. The attempt to "Turkify" minorities, as manifested in the first years after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, was done equally to all minorities.

But throughout the years the Jews were perceived as allies of "great forces", such as the Rothschild family, and were presented as those who were trying to take over the world, an image that wasn't painted on other minorities in Turkey. There is another section that characterizes antisemitism in Turkey and distinguishes it from xenophobia, which is the alleged Jewish conspiracy to take control of Turkey itself, since part of Turkey was part of King Solomon's conquests. Two years ago, after hearing that she was from Israel, a clerk at the airport in Ankara asked Aviv, "When will you stop cultivating the idea of a Greater Israel at the expense of Turkey?"

Nevertheless, there is an enhanced awareness of antisemitism in Turkey. The HRANT DINK Institute, named after an Armenian journalist murdered for his origins, monitors every antisemitic or racist expression in the Turkish media and publishes a monthly "hate report".

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are often used as a political gage for different parties and ideologies in Turkey. The idea of being Jewish is viewed as a negative thing, thus it can characterize opposing sectors or ideological circles. One of the first accusations against Erdogan and the AK Party was that they have Jewish origins. This was a way to prove how dangerous Erdogan and his counterpart were, how untruthful they were, and how they all cooperate with Western intelligence agencies, including Mossad.

There is a clear rise in the number and severity of antisemitic acts. During Operation Protective Edge a small march was held in the streets of Istanbul calling for the killing of Jews, and the question of whether AKP was responsible for this is an important one. According to a survey conducted by Aviv and published in the book, AKP, and especially Erdogan, are very influential in spreading antisemitic views in Turkey. That is, it doesn't matter if there is an increase in antisemitism or not, what is important is that these sentiments are encouraged by the government. In other words, a person with antisemitic views will not at all be afraid to express them because of the administration's support for these ideas.

Erdogan is in a politically problematic situation: he is severely criticized for his ties with Israel, and if he expresses positive statements about Jews, his electoral power will diminish. But this leads to another and slightly more positive point: awareness, as previously mentioned, is growing in Turkey. The government has returned (nationalized, taken by the government) assets of Turkish minorities, including those of the Jews; the government renovated the ancient Jewish synagogue in Adriana at a cost of a few million pounds despite criticism of this (as there are almost no Jews living there); through Project Aladdin the topic of the Holocaust has been introduced into study programs; Holocaust movies, such as The Pianist, are being broadcast despite protest; and International Holocaust Remembrance Day is being marked for the fifth year in Turkey (and officially for the third year).

Even if the administration is making these "gestures" due to its desire to enter the European Union or to be accepted as an enlightened country in the former Soviet Union, this is an important statement. It brings us back to the point previously made that while antisemitism will never end in Turkey, even under non-AKP parties, it can certainly be reduced if the administration doesn’t encourage it directly or indirectly.

With regard to anti-Zionism, the book provides examples of many expressions and actions that are directed against Israel, including Erdogan's declaration during Operation Protective Edge that "Israel is bypassing Hitler".

The book also describes various aspects of the Jewish community in Turkey and its dıverse attitudes toward antisemitism.