Trump’s Jerusalem decision must not be a pretext for anti-Semitism
U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a reckless move that could lead the Middle East into more chaos.
It is not surprising that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s has been so vocal in response. His reaction has also been supported by the opposition, as the Palestine issue is a sensitive topic for all parties.
Right after the Trump declaration Erdoğan called for extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which Turkey is the current term president, in Istanbul on Dec. 13. At the end of the meeting the OIC declared that it recognized “East Jerusalem” as the capital of the Palestinian State. In fact, Erdoğan reportedly insisted on using “Jerusalem” rather than “East Jerusalem” as the capital of Palestine. But nobody asked whether he does not agree with those who confine themselves to “East Jerusalem” or whether he meant the whole Jerusalem. Indeed, Turkey’s main opposition party even asked the government to “open an embassy” in East Jerusalem if it is going to be the capital of Palestine.
Nevertheless, regardless the legitimacy of the reaction against Trump’s decision, it sounds like Turkey is rather uninformed about the details of the Palestinian issue – and indeed about Middle Eastern politics in general. It also seems that most political parties and circles are more concerned about domestic politics and manipulating the Palestinian issue for their own purposes.
In fact the both are true. Turkey is uninformed and indifferent to facts on the ground in the Middle East. In the 1970s, leftists were pro-Palestine for ideological reasons as it was a leftist issue and at the time Islamists were largely indifferent. It was only after Hamas emerged as the representative of the Palestinian politics of protest that Islamists became keen on the issue. Both political currents have always been anti-Zionist/anti-Israel, which was perceived as a pawn of imperialism in the Middle East.
It has always been rather difficult to raise any concern about the anti-Semitic aspect of pro-Palestinian politics, despite the fact that anti-Zionism has long been a cover for anti-Semitism in Turkey. Unfortunately, the recent controversy over Jerusalem paved the way for many vocal expressions of anti-Semitism in Turkey. We should acknowledge that although Israel and many Zionists use anti-Semitism as a tool to avoid criticism of Israel’s inhumane and often violent politics, criticism of Israeli politics is often used as a veneer to cover anti-Semitism (especially in Muslim-majority countries). We should all be concerned about legitimizing anti-Semitism under the pretext of reacting against Trump’s utterly unacceptable decision.
Last week a columnist in pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak wrote an article with the title: “The problem is not Zionism, but Jewishness.” The article claimed that “the reality is that Jews are intellectually the most dangerous human community,” and that the proportion of “Jews who have never engaged in terrorism is not even five percent worldwide.” The author stated that he is “not against Judaism as a religion,” but argued that “at present Jews follow a racist, hegemonic and false theology. They must abandon this theology in order to transform into a non-dangerous people.”
For years I have tried, largely to no avail, to intellectually to tackle the problem of anti-Semitism in Turkey. Even some of my liberal-leftist friends dismissed my concerns as exaggerated and misplaced. I could not persuade many of them by recalling that anti-Semitism is not just a problem about discrimination toward Jews, but part and parcel of authoritarian and reactionary politics in general.
Indeed, anti-Semitism is nothing less than a reaction against modernity and universal values like human rights, freedoms and even democracy itself. It tends to define modern life and all its values as tools of global Jewish plot against the “authenticity of all societies.”
In the past, the anti-Semites of Turkey often recalled that our Ottoman ancestors centuries ago rescued Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, as supposed proof that we have no anti-Jewish historical heritage. While it is true that we have little anti-Semitic historical heritage, that certainly doesn’t make us immune to modern anti-Semitism, part and parcel of discontent with the values of modernity and democracy.