Turkey's Erdogan Fans the Flames of Anti-Semitism

Increasingly dark ideologies, terrorist attacks, and dangerous political upheavals have gradually overshadowed Turkey’s many attractions

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom

Turkey is one the world’s loveliest countries. For centuries, its historical sites and natural wonders have delighted visitors from near and far. Sadly, however, increasingly dark ideologies, terrorist attacks, and dangerous political upheavals have gradually overshadowed Turkey’s many attractions.

In recent days, for example, rage directed at the United States, Israel, and Jews has caught fire in Istanbul’s roiling streets. Making matters worse, Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have intentionally fanned the flames.

This all began Dec. 6, when President Donald Trump declared: “In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city — and so importantly — is Israel’s capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.

“Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city….Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Trump’s words may have sounded trivial to Western ears. But in a widely published remark, President Erdogan responded with a Hadith — one that is often quoted by jihadis.

“Those who think they are the owners of Jerusalem today will not even be able to find trees to hide behind tomorrow.”

What does that mean? My friend Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, explained the Hadith to me.

“… The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree. And a stone or a tree would say…'Muslim, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him…'”

Unfortunately, calls for “Death to Jews” are not unusual in Turkey. Nor are fiercely anti-Jewish rants anything new to the Turkish president. When Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in 1997, he proclaimed: "The Jews have begun to crush the Muslims of Palestine, in the name of Zionism," the mayor said. "Today, the image of the Jews is no different from that of the Nazis."

At around the same time, he also famously affirmed his own Islamist vision: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers…”

As journalist Uzay and I talked about all this, she shook her head sadly. “I fear for the Jews in Turkey,” she explained. “And I wish they would leave the country while they can. After what the Turks did to Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians in the 20th Century, I am really afraid of a pogrom against the Jews. Turkey’s population is overwhelmingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. And you should see what people are saying on Twitter!”

She translated a few social media posts for me, including: “I hope this will be a cause of war for us. I will spit on the blood of Jews,” and “The ummah[Islamic nation] is ready for intifada. They can exterminate the Jew.” Also: “We have no fear of war. [The question is] where will we bury millions of Jewish bodies? To touch Jerusalem means an end to Jews.”

Then more fuel was added to the fire on Dec. 13. U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster condemned Qatar and Turkey for taking on a “new role” as the main sponsors and sources of funding for extremist Islamist ideology that targets Western interests….

…While Gen McMaster made reference to Saudi Arabia's support for some of these organizations decades ago, he singled out Qatar and Turkey as main supporters at present. “[It] is now done more by Qatar, and by Turkey," he said, according to The National.

McMaster also claimed Turkey's growing problems with the West were largely a result of the rise of the Justice and Development Party, to which president Recep Tayyip Erdogan belongs.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s response to this new American position was rather muted. But in the streets, in cafes and in classrooms, Israel and the Jews were immediately blamed.

Most alarming was the reaction in cyberspace. Many tweets expressed open admiration for Hitler’s Final Solution. One called for “a new Hitler to liberate Jerusalem.” Other posts blamed Hitler for failing to exterminate the Jews.

Such tweets, needless to say, do not represent the beliefs of all Turks. Nor do they necessarily forebode future attacks or tragedies. But they clearly serve as a warning. Unless enlightened Turkish men and women courageously find their way into leadership, the region’s hatred, terror, and turbulence may never subside.

Let us hope and pray they do.