There are currently fewer than 15,000 Jews in Turkey and their number reportedly keeps declining. Istanbul's Neve Şalom Synagogue (pictured) was attacked three times by terrorists: in 1986 (by the Abu Nidal Organization); in 1992 (by Turkish Hizballah); and in 2003 (by Al-Qaeda). Image source: Chadica/Wikimedia Commons
As the Islamist government of Turkey grows increasingly authoritarian, religious minorities in the country seem to be the most targeted and affected group.
The concerns of Turkey's Jewish community were addressed recently by Mois Gabay, a columnist for the country's Jewish weekly, Şalom, in an article entitled, "What Kind of Turkey Are We Living In?"
In it, Gabay discussed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's establishing nine councils, the members of which he appointed, and who are responsible for "offering policy proposals, ideas and strategies to the president" on the economy, foreign policy, education and law.
Among those appointed to official positions within these councils, Gabay wrote, are well-known public figures who have made blatant anti-Semitic statements.
In an interview with the Turkish journal Yörünge in August, for instance, author Alev Alatlı, now a member of Erdogan's culture and art council, said that the "anti-Erdogan forces of the world" are led by Jews and motivated by millennia-long Jewish teachings. "The real project [of the Jews] is to cleanse the universe of goyim," she said, referring to "goyim" as those "for whom there is no place in the world unless they serve the Jews."
In another interview the same month with the newspaper Takvim, Alatlı said:
"American imperialism and Jewish alliance (Evangelism and Jewish) have once again stepped into action today and are dragging the world into chaos. Their first target is Turkey."
Last year, Professor Burhan Kuzu, a former MP of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tweeted:
"Kennedy took the mandate for printing the U.S. dollar from the Jewish bank and gave it to the state's central bank and got killed; the killer remains unidentified."
Kuzu is also now a member of Erdogan's law council.
In his column in the newspaper, Star, on September 19, Yiğit Bulut (no relation), one of Erdogan's key advisers, wrote:
"Israel, which has been shedding Muslim blood for years in the region, has now started to attack Russia. At this point, Israel thinks it will 'run and hide behind America,' but will it really have the time to run and hide? That is a little doubtful."
Bulut is now on Erdogan's economic council.
Then there is the folklorist and writer, Hakan Yılmaz Çebi, whom Gabay quoted as saying on Turkey's Beyaz TV on October 9:
"What is this Jewish utopia? When one looks at the disasters that have fallen upon us recently, one sees that Jewish utopia is behind them."
Gabay himself wrote:
"While these people have not even bothered to explain or apologize for their anti-Semitic statements or writings, King Mohammed VI of Morocco decided to incorporate Holocaust studies into his country's high school curriculum.
"Meanwhile, our so-called folklorists continue to poison our people through the 'Jew-Mason-Illuminati' trio. Yet, King Mohammed VI of Morocco made a breakthrough in the Muslim world and told the world press that 'education has the power to fight ugly phenomena such as discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism.'"
Erdogan's appointment of anti-Semites, such as those mentioned above, should not come as a surprise. When U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Erdogan responded by referring to a hadith (a saying by Islam's prophet, Mohammed) about Judgement Day:
"Those who think they are the owners of Jerusalem today will not even be able to find trees to hide behind tomorrow," he said, during a Human Rights Day event in Ankara on December 10.
The full hadith, 223275, is as follows:
"Abu Huraira reported Allaah's Messenger (sall Allaahua layhiwa sallam) as saying: 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, or the servant of Allaah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews."
"Knowing the realities of the country where we live causes us to lose more hope each day. Does reading the Jewish-related views of the persons at the highest political positions who have the authority to represent us not give us an idea concerning in what kind of a country we will be raising our children?
"What about the fact that open, as well as hidden, antisemitism have become part of daily life [in Turkey], while an awakening about Israel and Jews is on the rise in many other majority-Muslim countries?
"As long as required steps to struggle against anti-Semitism are not taken by the government in this environment, where Israel is demonized every day, we as Turkish Jews can persuade only those in our own neighborhood, even if we organize activities to raise awareness day in and day out."
Anti-Semitism and physical assaults against Jews have a long history in Turkey. In Istanbul's Neve Şalom Synagogue, for example, Jews were victims of three terrorist attacks: in 1986 (by the Abu Nidal Organization); in 1992 (by Turkish Hizballah); and in 2003 (by Al-Qaeda). There are currently fewer than 15,000 Jews in Turkey and their number reportedly keeps declining.
"I do not think that there has ever been a period in this country in which anti-Semitism and hatred against Jews has decreased," said Işıl Demirel, an anthropologist from Turkey and an author for the news site, Avlaremoz.
"And during the current political atmosphere, hate speech against Jews in Turkey is even more commonplace. The attacks against synagogues in particular have made security an even more alarming issue for the Jewish community. That is why, for many years, synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been protected by safety measures.... The government should immediately recognize anti-Semitism as a hate crime and impose penal sanctions on the perpetrators. I think this is the most important step to be taken to help the Jewish community live in peace here."
Demirel's suggestion would make perfect sense in a free and genuinely democratic society. But in a country where the president, and his advisers and MPs regularly and proudly spit out hatred not only against Jews, but also against other minorities, how does one deal with anti-Semitism when demonizing Jews or Israel seems to serve as a fast track to a career in government?
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist born and raised a Muslim, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute and currently based in Washington D.C.