Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has referred several times to Israelis as "Nazis." This notion appears to be a projection: it has been Turkish governments that have ethnically cleansed Turkey of almost all its non-Muslim citizens. Erdogan denies the 1915 Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, even as he has called the genocide "the most reasonable decision at the time". (Photo by Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
On December 25, a reporter asked Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about his views on the news that Israel and Turkey were "re-establishing their relations recently." Erdogan replied:
"Our relations with Israel concerning intelligence have not been interrupted anyway; they continue. I mean, we are experiencing some difficulties with the people at the highest level there, as with some other countries. If we had no such problems with the top [of the Israeli government], our relations with Israel would be very different. Of course, particularly Israel's Palestine policy is Turkey's red line. It is impossible for us to accept Israel's Palestinian policies. It is impossible for us to accept Israel's attitude towards our brothers and sisters in Palestine and its ruthless actions there. Where we differ with Israel is our understanding of justice and of territorial integrity of countries. Otherwise, we want to move our relations with them to a better point."
Two weeks before Erdogan talked about "bettering relations with Israel," a conference organized by a pro-government Turkish organization, the Association of Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM), promoted the idea of creating a joint Islamic army and a common defense system for the "Confederation of Islamic Countries". One of the main targets of this proposed army is Israel.
The board chairman of ASSAM, a retired Turkish general Adnan Tanriverdi, is the founder of a Turkish security firm, SADAT International Defense Consulting, and a former senior advisor to Erdogan. In a 2009 article, Tanriverdi wrote:
"[T]o defeat Israel, it must be forced to defend itself, to engage all its forces, and the length of the war must be extended.... If Israel has to call all of its reserve soldiers to duty, there will be no one left at home or in their businesses. It cannot continue like that for a long time."
The annual Islamic Union Congress was organized online on December 12 under the theme of "ASRICA [Asia-Africa] confederation defense organization" and discussed "the principles and the procedures of the common defense system for the Islamic union". Tanriverdi presented in his speech the defense structure of the so-called Islamic union that ASSAM envisions will consist of 61 Muslim countries.
Tanrıverdi has repeatedly stated that the Muslim world must establish an "army for Palestine" against Israel. In an Istanbul speech delivered in 2019 by Tanriverdi, he emphasized that it was impossible for the Islamic world to "give up on Jerusalem." Tanrıverdi said:
"The Islamic world should prepare an army for Palestine from outside Palestine. Israel should know that if it bombs [Palestine] a bomb will fall on Tel Aviv as well."
Tanriverdi conveniently ignores that Palestine was a provincial place name established by the Romans in 135 CE, after the defeat of a Jewish rebellion, to replace "Judea" and all other vestiges of Jewish life in the region. The reason for the current Palestinian-Arab statelessness is their own political leaders who have rejected three offers for a state and instead chosen war and terrorism over peaceful coexistence. The United Nations proposed a plan in 1947 to partition Palestine into two sections: an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state. While Jewish leaders accepted the plan, Arab leaders vehemently opposed it. The day after Israel declared its independence, May 15, 1948, five Arab countries invaded it: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Seventy-three years later, extremist Muslims still plan on destroying Israel. The gatherings of the Islamic Union Congress started in 2017 and will continue until 2023. The next annual congress in 2021 will discuss "principles and procedures of joint foreign policy for the Islamic union."
Erdogan referred to Turkey's understanding of "territorial integrity of countries" as one of the reasons their relations with Israel has deteriorated. However, it was Erdogan who in October called Jerusalem a Turkish city. Referring to the Ottoman occupation of Jerusalem (1517-1917), Erdogan said:
"It is still possible to encounter traces of the Ottoman resistance in this city that we had to leave in tears during the First World War. In other words, Jerusalem is our city, it is a city from us."
Erdogan also has made it clear many times that his problem is not only with the "top" people in the Israeli government, but also with the whole Jewish nation.
Speaking at a meeting on January 31,2020, for instance, Erdogan blasted the "Deal of the Century" that was presented by US President Donald Trump attempting to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Erdogan called Israel "a pirate, cruel and insatiable" and -- apparently forgetting that the Palestinians had been offered a state three times, and each time turned the offer down -- opposed the idea that Jews should have a state of their own.
"We never recognize and accept this plan that will destroy Palestine.
"Israel, which was established in a pirate way on Palestinian lands, has reached its present borders unjustly and unlawfully. The eyes of the cruel ones do not get enough of either blood or property. Israel does not get enough of these things either. They are trying to put into effect this plan, which means the annexation of Palestinian lands. Now, without any shame, they are trying to deprive Palestine [of a state], including the West Bank."
Erdogan also condemned those who befriend and support Jews, whom he referred to as "those with a kippah on":
"When we look at the attitude of Islamic countries, I feel sorry for us. First of all, you, Saudi Arabia. You have been silent. When will you speak up? The Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi administrations. They join [the peace initiative] and give applause. Shame on you! How will those clapping hands account for this treacherous step? Those sitting with kippahs on their heads [Jews] applaud and they [Muslims] applaud, as well. Tell me who your friend is and I will tell you who you are. The key to peace is in Jerusalem today, as it has been for thousands of years. Anyone who encourages Israel is responsible for the dire consequences that will occur."
Referring to his January 29, 2020 meeting with Turkey's Jewish community, which was closed to the media, Erdogan said he warned Turkey's Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva about his stance on the US administration's peace plan: That Turkey's Jewish community and the "Christian world" should not maintain silence concerning the issue.
For these extremist Muslims, facts do not seem to matter. The US administration's peace plan for Palestinian Arabs and Israel does recognize Palestinian statehood and a "two-state solution." The plan notes that it "addresses today's realities, and provides the Palestinians, who do not yet have a state, with a path to a dignified national life, respect, security and economic opportunity." These are, in fact, rights and opportunities that the Turkish government has never recognized for any of its persecuted minority communities: Armenians, Yazidis, Anatolian Greeks. Alevis, Kurds, or Assyrians.
Meanwhile, antisemitism in Turkey has become a government-level, systematic problem. In 2018, Erdogan established nine councils, the members of which he appointed, who are responsible for "offering policy proposals, ideas and strategies to the president" on the economy, foreign policy, education and law. Among those councils' appointees 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, 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 alliances (Evangelism and Jewish) have once again stepped into action today and are dragging the world into chaos. Their first target is Turkey."
This is in line with Erdogan's worldview. He has frequently targeted Israelis and Jewish people with insults and hate speech. In 2014, he said:
"Israel is a country that threatens peace in the world; it is a country that threatens peace in the Middle East. Therefore, as Turkey, as long as I am in this position [of prime minister], I cannot think of anything positive about Israel. It is not possible for us to look positively at Israel, which is engaging in state terror.
"My call is to the Islamic world. As long as it does not clearly show its attitude towards Israel, these problems will continue. Our attitude is clear. We were almost at a point where we zeroed our relations with Israel. Israel is currently committing genocide."
Erdogan seems not to be the best judge of what constitutes a genocide. A proud denier of the 1915 Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, he has called it "the most reasonable decision at the time". Also, when then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, against whom an arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court for conducting a genocide in Darfur, visited Turkey in 2009, Erdogan defended him by saying: "It is never possible for a person belonging to the religion of Islam to which we belong to commit genocide." Evidently Erdogan thinks that what determines genocide is not the actions or intent of the perpetrators, but their religion.
Erdogan then targeted Jewish people with a violent Islamic teaching: In December 2017, after US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Erdogan said:
"Those who think they are the owners of Jerusalem today will not even be able to find trees to hide behind tomorrow."
The remark alludes to an Islamic hadith (saying attributed to Islam's Prophet Muhammad) according to which:
"The Hour [of Judgement Day] will not begin until you fight the Jews, until a Jew will hide behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will say: 'O Muslim, O slave of Allah, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him."
Erdogan has also referred several times to Israelis as "Nazis." In July 2018, he responded to Israel's passage of its Nation-State Law by saying that the "spirit of Adolf Hitler" had re-emerged in the country. Erdogan called Israel the "most Zionist, fascist, and racist state in the world" and claimed that there was "no difference between Hitler's obsession with the Aryan race and Israel's understanding that these ancient lands are meant only for Jews."
This notion appears to be yet another projection: it has been Turkish governments that have ethnically cleansed Turkey of almost all of its non-Muslim citizens -- through genocide, pogroms, forced deportations and other forms of persecution.
The Turkish government's hostility to Jews and Israel is not limited to statements. In 2018, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) announced that Hamas was funneling terror funds to the West Bank and Gaza through Turkey:
"Kamil Tekeli, a Turkish law professor, was arrested by the Shin Bet and the police in mid-January. He was deported back to Turkey after being questioned...
"Tekeli said he helped Hamas operatives who came to Turkey to buy apartments, offices and cars and set up companies registered in his name.
"The Shin Bet said its investigation discovered one company set up by Hamas in Turkey that was used to launder money collected for Hamas in other countries and then send it on to the territories. In this way, millions of dollars were sent to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
"The Shin Bet statement also accused Turkey of aiding Hamas' military build-up via a company called SADAT, established by an adviser to members of the current government in Ankara. Tekeli told his interrogators that the company sends money and arms to Hamas."
Erdogan's government is also reportedly harboring members of Hamas, providing at least a dozen members of the terrorist organization with citizenship. In August, Erdogan personally met with a Hamas delegation that included politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and the terror group's No. 2, Saleh al-Arouri, a top military commander who has a $5 million US bounty on his head.
The US government unambiguously condemned Erdogan's welcoming of Hamas:
"Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings."
Following Erdogan's meeting with Hamas members, Israel's chargé d'affaires in Istanbul, Roey Gilad, said that Turkey had given passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul. He described the move as "a very unfriendly step" which his government would raise with Turkish officials.
According to Reuters, Gilad said Israel had already told Turkey last year that Hamas was carrying out "terror-related activity" in Istanbul, but that Turkey had not taken any action. According to Reuters:
"Gilad said the Hamas members who received Turkish documents were financing and organising terrorism from Istanbul, which Turkey has previously denied. Many of them came to Turkey under a 2011 deal between Turkey and Israel to exchange a captured Israeli soldier for more than 1,000 prisoners, Gilad said."
Sadly, much of the Turkish public seems to agree with Erdogan's hate-filled rhetoric against Israel. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that the country most hated by Turkish citizens is Israel. 86% of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Israel, while only 2% viewed it positively.
Moreover, books such as Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler's Mein Kampf, and The International Jew by Henry Ford "form the basic texts for anti-Semites the world over, are perennial bestsellers" in Turkey, as a leading scholar of Turkish Jewry, Rifat N. Bali, pointed out.
After years of hostile statements and actions against Israel, why is Turkey trying to approach Israel now? One reason appears to be geopolitics. Because of its aggressive policies in the region, the Turkish government is now largely isolated there. In addition, the Financial Times reported in August:
"Turkey's economy suffered its deepest downturn on record at the peak of this year's coronavirus crisis, according to data that underlined the pain caused by lockdown measures on key sectors."
Apparently, the Erdogan regime is hoping to expand trade with Israel and further gain diplomatic support in international matters. At the same time, instead of genuinely trying to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in Turkish society through education and other means, the Erdogan regime has been indoctrinating its supporters with Jew-hatred and actively supporting Hamas terrorists.
The Erdogan regime has proven time and time again that it is hostile to Israel, hostile to Jews and other non-Muslim minorities, and friends with those who want to obliterate the Jewish state.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.