Violent protestors gathered yesterday in front of the Israeli embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul. Protesters in Istanbul tried to enter the Consulate several times, while rioters in Ankara removed the Israeli flag from the embassy, replacing it with Palestinian and Turkish flags. Riot police dispersed the crowds in both cities, firing tear gas and using water cannons.
Turks have never been shy of expressing their views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, even at times of relative calm. Considering that a majority of Turks are Sunni Muslims who feel affinity for their coreligionists and a sympathy for the underdog, it’s not surprising when they display anger towards the Israelis during times of conflict. But over the past few weeks, many Turks’ reactions seem not to be directed towards Israel, but rather towards Jews. From Twitter hashtags to angry newspaper columns, the latest events in Gaza have revealed a troubling undercurrent of Turkish anti-Semitism.
Hitler comments on social media have been among the most jarring. Yildiz Tilbe, a popular Turkish pop-star, made headlines on July 11 after tweeting “If God allows, it will be again Muslims who will bring the end of those Jews, it is near, near.” She followed this with “May God bless Hitler.” Her tweets caused outrage and many demanded a public apology. But she wasn’t alone. “Hitler didn’t do enough” and “Hitler was right” were among popular comments under various newspaper articles and YouTube videos, as well as on Facebook posts.
In an open letter to Turkey’s chief rabbi earlier this week, journalist Faruk Kose asked the religious figure to issue a statement on behalf of all Jews in Turkey and condemn the Israeli operations. He explained that the rabbi needed to do this in order to prevent violence against Turkish Jews. Kose’s piece began with the assumption that “Jews…cause strife and mischief every place they go.” The letter was published in Turkish daily Yeni Akit, a government-affiliated newspaper.
Some might argue that Turkey has been a bastion of tolerance. In January 2004, the American Jewish Congress presented Prime Minister Erdogan a “Profile of Courage” award. In December of the same year, Erdogan pledged that he would fight anti-Semitism in Turkey to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In 2005, he told the ADL “anti-Semitism has no place in Turkey,” while accepting an award on behalf of Turkish diplomats who saved Jews during the holocaust.
But in reality, anti-Semitism under Erdogan has been on the rise. The current protests against Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip have apparently brought these sentiments further out into the open.
Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies focusing on Turkey. Find her on Twitter @MerveTahiroglu