‘Jewish, Turkish, Israeli’
The year 1977 meant elections, a new government and, for my parents and myself, packing up to leave İzmir. This was because my father, an employee of the state broadcaster TRT, had chosen the wrong song for an entertainment program. The love song, which went with the lyrics “We shall walk hand in hand / And always forward…” had been deemed by the state as “communist propaganda.” We would be back in Ankara again.
I knew from family experience that TRT had never been a BBC in independent broadcasting. It still isn’t. But it went shockingly beyond the “government (and public) line” this month in twin moves that deserve praise.
First, the TRT management selected Can Bonomo, a Turkish Jew, to represent Turkey at the (ridiculously) popular Eurovision Song Contest this year; then, it screened the iconic Holocaust documentary, “Shoah,” an epic production directed by Claude Lanzmann, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27).
It was the first time that “Shoah” had been broadcast by state television in a predominantly Muslim country. And, interestingly, the screening came only a few months after the release of a Turkish film, “Turkish passport,” which tells the true story of Turkish diplomats who saved thousands of Jews during World War II by issuing them Turkish passports.
Western observers concluded that the screening of “Shoah” was a key part of Turkey’s observance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day; that it was part of Turkey’s policy to separate its differences with the Israeli government from the Jewish people; that it was a shrewd diplomatic move by the government; and that Mr. Bonomo’s nomination aimed to curry favored with the Israeli lobby. We must admit that whatever the motives, TRT surprised everyone and won praise from anti-anti-Semitic Turks.
I am no longer an 11-year-old “TRT insider.” But I know Turkish politics enough to guess that “Shoah” cannot be a must-see documentary for any member of the Cabinet, its cherry-picked civil servants and a majority of Turks who do not hide their hatred for Israel/Zionism/Jewry. The surprise smells less like a “government overture” and more like a “correction from the government’s partners across the Atlantic.”
The screening of “Shoah” was part of the France-based Aladdin project that seeks to build greater understanding through culture between Muslims and Jews. And this description can only fit into the rhetoric and work of another group – the Gülenists. Evidently, the Gülenists have put their signature on something that goes in full consistency with their declared philosophy.
The Turks have not become Zionists because their state TV screened “Shoah.” Nor have they betrayed their Palestinian brothers because a Turkish Jew, instead of a Turkish Sunni, will represent Turkey at a song contest.
All the same, the massive protest messages on social media and their hateful contents over Mr. Bonomo’s nomination were a bitter reminder that Turkey is still a century away from the maturity of ignoring a fellow citizen’s faith.
Mr. Bonomo’s shy refusals to comment on his faith in several interviews reminded me of an article I read a couple of months ago on the opinion page of the Israeli newssite Ynetnews.com (“Jewish, Turkish, Israeli,” Nov. 17, 2011). The author, a Turkish-Jewish girl, wrote that: “…I have never had the need to discuss my Jewish identity, let alone my Israeli identity… We are a Jewish family with a connection to Israel, and as fit for a Turkish family we enjoy… freedom of religious rituals and worship. Holidays and vacations, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish after-school clubs, all out in the open, and with no reason to fear…”
Just when I suspected that the author must be describing a Turkey other than the one I live in, her final line confirmed that it’s the same Turkey: “Despite my love for Turkey, I have chosen to remain anonymous, in case, well, you know…”
Well, we know…