Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently threatened his own citizens -- citizens who practice a different faith, of course -- Turkey's already dwindling Jewish community, now at around 16,000. "Do not provoke [us]," he said. Pictured: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Photo by Elif Sogut/Getty Images)
Another round of Turkish elections and another wave of Israel-bashing at election rallies. This has become a pattern since 2009 and Turks have not shown any sign of frustration: They simply love it.
Blaming the man who brought Israel to public rallies is the easier thing to do, a kind of intellectual laziness. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been correct in thinking that his diplomatic wars with Israel, his more than undiplomatic language and outright anti-Zionism would work like a ballot box cash machine. It did.
A deeper look, however, should investigate why in the 1970s and 80s, when Turkey did not have full diplomatic relations with Israel, the name of that country or any politician there was never mentioned at Turkish election rallies. Why would the average Turkish voter, three or four decades ago, find the State of Israel totally irrelevant but today show up and cheer at every possible Israel-bashing election rally? How did Turkish politicians who in the mid-1990s spearheaded efforts to build an alliance with Israel, keep winning votes despite their pro-Israel policies? What took place to move the Turkish mindset to its present, deeply anti-Israeli point?
What took place was the not-so-creeping Islamization of Turkish society since 2002, when Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. A Turk who is now 27 years old was only 10 at that time, and has not seen any other leader of Turkey since. Erdoğan's political and social engineering has changed the way the average Turk identifies himself: Most Turks used to identify themselves as "Turks first." Now they identify themselves as "Muslims first" -- the way Erdoğan seemingly wanted them to.
It is not surprising then that passionate fans of the Justice and Development Party often hear the words Israel, terror state, tyrant, dictator and so on at public rallies as Turkey heads toward its local elections on March 31. "What," asked a puzzled European diplomat, a newcomer to Ankara, "does Israel have to do with Turks' choice of metropolitan, small town or even village mayors?" A colleague answered with a smile: "A lot. Anti-Israel rhetoric is now an indispensable part of every Turkish election, including one to elect a village headman."
The show for this year's election took off as early as December, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "a cold-blooded killer in modern times," among other slanders.
Most recently, Erdoğan threatened his own citizens -- citizens who practice a different faith, of course -- Turkey's already dwindling Jewish community, now at around 16,000. "Do not provoke [us]," he said, before noting that he had not yet taken any action against Turkish Jews or their houses of worship.
Erdoğan's threat came at a time when Turkey's centuries-old Jewish community is already fleeing. The European Jewish Press reported:
"In 2016 the Jewish immigration from Turkey has doubled. In percentage terms, the largest increase of Alyah [immigration to Israel] registered during this period was the immigration from Turkey," notes the Jewish agency. "It appears to be connected to growing political instability in that country and fears that the Jewish community is being targeted," the agency says.
Erdoğan may win a few extra votes by further inciting anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkey. He may ideologically be happy if more Muslim Turks hate Jews. But in reality, he is making his own country a more hateful, polarized and unsustainable place to live. If Erdoğan is curious to know on what course he is taking Turkey, he might check the official statistics on Turkey's huge brain drain.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.