Anti-Semitism is a perversion

Anti-Semitism is a perversion

Guess who said that strong sentence in the title.

It was Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. It was not too long ago; June 10, 2005, at a ceremony organized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York, where ADL Chairman Abraham Fox presented a “Courage” award to Erdoğan for a “Better future for our children.” In his speech, Fox said Turkey, “which was established by the great Kemal Atatürk,” had been setting a unique model for Muslim countries with its “secular system.”

Accepting the ADL award on behalf of Turkey, Erdoğan said the following: “Anti-Semitism is a shameful mental illness; it is a perversion. The Jewish genocide [Holocaust] is the heaviest crime against humanity throughout history. Genocide, discrimination, Islamophobia, Christianophobia, ethnic cleansing are all different forms of the same illness.”

If anyone in today’s Turkey said the same words, they would not only be labeled a “Zionist,” but also be accused of being a “spy for Israel” by certain figures in Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and pro-government media.

Daily Yeni Akit ran a front-page headline story on May 20, saying that the son-in-law of Alp Gürkan, the owner of the Soma mine in which 301 people died on May 13, was a Jew. The paper was proud to have “deciphered the reason why Zionism-manipulated domestic and foreign media was attacking PM Erdoğan by taking advantage of Soma” by revealing the Jewish son-in-law, instead of questioning the failures of the company and the government in not taking the necessary safety measures in accordance with international standards.

But that was not all; the son-in-law, Mario Asafrana, uses the Muslim name of “Mahir,” while his father, İshak, uses “Izzet.” The article didn't, of course, mention that the majority of non-Muslim minorities in Turkey also use Muslim or Turkish names so as not to be a source of social attention; there was a de facto ban on giving names in Kurdish and Circassian (despite being Muslim) in the country up until a few years ago.

On the same day as the Yeni Akit headline, PM Erdoğan thanked Israel for canceling its National Day reception in respect for the three days of mourning in Turkey because of Soma. But Yasin Aktay, the AK Parti’s deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations, said he did not omit the possibility of “sabotage” in Soma, and the AK Parti's head of Parliament’s Constitutional Commission, Burhan Kuzu, a professor of law, mentioned that the mine-owner’s son-in-law was Jewish in a Twitter message.

A day before that, the ADL published research on global anti-Semitism. According to this research, 69 percent of Turkish people have anti-Semitic feelings, ahead of Iran at 56 percent and at the same level as Greece.

It is true that since Erdoğan’s words at the ADL evening, a number of serious political crises have taken place between Turkey and Israel. There is the military operation against Gaza amid the Turkish government’s mediation efforts between Israel and Syria, the “one minute” crisis in Davos, the killing of nine Turks on board the Mavi Marmara, and the general antagonism in the wake of the failed Arab Spring.

Yet it is a fact that a few years after Erdoğan’s strong condemnation of anti-Semitism, there are people in today’s Turkey who believe that Erdoğan said “seed of Israel” to a young miner booing before slapping him. (I recommend an article by Haymi Behar, “Being an Israeli Spawn in Turkey” at as supplementary reading on the issue.) I watched a number of recordings – none of them are clear – and I concluded that Erdoğan did not actually say those words. But the important thing is that many Turkish people believe that their PM may well have done so. That is not something to be proud of.