Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Follow Up: More on Turkey's State-Sanctioned Antisemitism

In a recent article in Haaretz, I outlined a growing trend of state-sanctioned antisemitism in Turkey. Not only is hate against Jews (and other groups) spread in pro-government media, but also members of the AKP government are on record of making blatant antisemitic remarks.

Following writing the article, in addition to the positive comments, I also received some hate messages directed at me on twitter. One of these came from a university professor in Turkey, Ali Ihsan Goker, who serves as the chair of the Physics department at Bilecik Seyh Edibali University, and has a PhD from Rice University. Mr. Goker attacked me with antisemitic hate speech, stating: "Treblinka will be ready soon-Constructing the railway tracks at the moment." Even worse, it was reported on the online Turkish newspaper, Diken, that he also tweeted that if he was in Erdogan's place he would gather up all the local Jews and send them to concentration camps.

First, I would like to thank all the people who supported me in the face of attacks I received for writing the article. Also, my special thanks goes out to a Turkish internet newspaper, Diken, who has followed up on the case, and are still awaiting word from Goker's university rector concerning any possible sanctions that might be taken against the Turkish state employ for his blatant hate speech and threats.Well-I guess we should not hold our breath since last week Goker was awarded a prestigious Tubitak government research grant. Yes. Rather than being punished, he has been rewarded by the government.   

Is Turkey exporting Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial?

Reading antisemitic Akit on a recent flight from Rome to Istanbul
While the Turkish government does not seem worried about rampant antisemitism in some of the the pro-government press, this might not hold true with other governments in Europe, where they have laws against Holocaust denial and racist incitement. As an avid flyer of Turkish Air, I am always shocked at the fact that antisemitic papers, such as Yeni Akit (and others) are distributed on board Turkish Air. Not only are they offered from a wide-selection of papers passengers can chose from before boarding in Turkey (some papers that are highly critical of government are not offered, such as Zaman), but they are also distributed at airports worldwide just before boarding (in other words, on foreign soil). 

For example, material appearing in Yeni Akit, such as the Hitler crossword puzzle (see below), or the recent article claiming Jews as collaborating with the Nazis  in the genocide of Europe's Jews (the whole article is blatantly antisemitic), could violate German law. Legally speaking, it does not seem that a passenger, who disembarks the plane with the illegal material is in violation of the law. However, the case becomes much more complicated when Turkish Air distributes the antisemitic (and other forms of hate speech) material in the German airports just before passengers board the plane. Here, it seems that this could be in direct violation of German law, and other countries such as France, who have laws against genocide denial or incitement of hate.

Was this crossword puzzle praising Hitler
passed out in German airports, perhaps violating
German Law?

Rather than testing the waters of European law, perhaps it might be wise for the Turkish government to ensure that its national airlines offer a hate-free zone for both their Turkish and international passengers. On a personal note, it would certainly make my experience on Turkish Air even better than it already is.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Erdogan’s victory in Turkey comes at a heavy price (From Haaretz, August 11, 2014)

After more than 11 years as prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now the first directly elected president in the history of the almost 100-year-old republic, something he sees as a victory of the people over the former elites that once controlled their destiny. For Erdogan and his followers, today ushers in the new Turkey, one that he aims to transform during the next nine years – until the 100th anniversary of the Republic in 2023.
While this narrative convinced 52 percent of Turkish voters to cast their votes for Erdogan, it does not change the fact that until constitutional changes are in place, the office of presidency will remain mostly ceremonial. However, even if Erdogan’s AKP party does not have enough seats in the parliament to make the necessary changes, few doubt that he will continue to have the final say over every major policy decision, implemented through an obedient prime minister which he is set to appoint. An upcoming 2015 parliamentary election victory by his party will be crucial to keep his plans on track.

To continue reading, please follow the link

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Two Cents*: Is the AKP an Authoritarian System?-the World according to Mahcupyan

A few weeks back one of Erdogan's staunches supporters, Etyen Mahcupyan, wrote an article for Daily Sabah (a paper owned by a holding whose CEO, Berat Albayrak, Erdogan's son-n-law). The article was titled, "Why the AK Party became 'Authoritarian,'" and pondered on why Erdogan has had to adopt authoritarian ways to save Turkish democracy. What did I read right? Did one of Erdogan's most loyalist liberal supporters actually question if the Turkish government has taken a turn towards authoritarianism?

Mahcupyan, a Turkish Armenian who once served as the editor of the Armenian newspaper Agos, has remained one of Erdogan's staunchest supporters. In fact, following Erdogan's split with the Gulen movement, Mahcupyan finally had to leave the newspaper Zaman, where he served as one of its star columnists for years. Of course, with the Gulen movement now the new enemy of the state, Mahcupyan had to abandon his former allies. 

I myself was on a panel in NYC with Mahcupyan in 2010 and questioned his unwavering support for Erdogan, who already then seemed to be losing his liberal support base, asking him how long would the marriage between liberals and the AKP last. I might add that he did not seem very happy with my question. Well, following the 2013 Gezi protest and last winter's uncovering of widespread corruption among AKP ministers, incriminating also the PM himself, it became clear that for some liberals nothing would end their support for Erdogan.

Despite the government's neglect in bringing a just verdict concerning the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, the recent release of Ergenekon suspects and convicts--a case that legitimatized Mahcupyan's support for the government--and the continued blurring of the separation of powers between the government and the judicial, Mahcupyan continues to support the AKP and Erdogan. In fact, Mahcupyan places faith in the AKP party members claiming, "the AK Party is not a party that follows its leader blindly; indeed, AK Party voters are not blinded with the light of their leader;" a claim that seems hard to substantiate.  

He also states that due to the Kurdish peace process the government should not be seen as anti-democratic stating, "If the AK Party had given up the reconciliation process about the Kurdish "problem," and the democratic process had stopped, it may have invited reasonable questioning of the intentions of the government."

However, Mahcupyan's words cannot be that comforting to Turkey's opposition parties and independent supporters of a liberal democracy within in Turkey. According to Mahcupyan, Turkey has taken a turn towards authoritarianism:

"Today, there is a government that advocates for the continuation of the democratic process, as well as pushes for authoritarian and polarized politics - an attitude that is both of peacemaker and warrior in public sphere. The answer to the question lies in the perception of threat, and the justifications of it. The aftermath of 2010 meant war for the AK Party. Therefore, the government and the AK Party voter base saw what happened as an attempted coup. They still think that they are right, and becoming authoritarian was one of the government's tools for this fight."

Certainly, if in Mahcupyan's world Turkey has adopted authoritarian ways, who can blame Erdogan's opponents for making these very claims; especially since Erdogan has made it clear that if he wins the presidency next week he will work to give the office extra-powers, usurping powers currently entitled to the state's parliament. 

Of course, if one of the opposition candidates were to win the presidency, the parliament would remain as the power broker in Turkish politics; i.e., in Erdogan's hands. This fact more than any other I suppose sums up the debate pretty well! 

Here is a link to Mahcupyan's article:

*My Two Cents will introduce commentary to my blogspot on different issues I choose to briefly comment on. 


When the state sanctions Turkey’s ugly anti-Semitism* (From Haaretz, July 23, 2014)

During the last two weeks anti-Semitism in Turkey has surged. Many of its citizens blur their criticism of the Israeli attack on Gaza with outright condemnation of Jews. Even if this trend is not unique to Turkey, the level of hate speech directed at Jews has hit dangerous levels, leaving many to even question the future of the 17,000-strong local Jewish community. In fact, open threats have been made against Turkey’s Jews in some of the pro-government media, which leads to only one conclusion: The Turkish government itself is largely responsible for this bleak situation.
The highlighted phrase, referring to the photo of Hitler;
 says (translated in Turkish): We are longing for you.
For over a decade, I have lived on-and-off in Turkey, watching Turkish society diversify along with the new freedoms it enjoyed during the first years of Erdogan’s tenure.
However, over the years, peoples’ comments and the Islamist press reminded me of the latent anti-Semitism there, though rightly brushed off as being largely marginal. However, even on the worst days, such as Israel’s raid on the Turkish-backed Gaza Flotilla, or during the Second Lebanon War, never did anti-Semitism erupt to such extremes as we have seen this week, one that was characterized by widespread praise for Hitler in the press and social media.
Despite this, for many Turkish and non-Turkish Jews, life continues at a near-normal pitch, since the prejudices that have been unleashed are not generally visible in the streets or communities they live or stay in.
This public display of anti-Semitism just did not suddenly reveal itself this week, Rather, it can be traced back to last year’s Gezi protest. The mass civil-society protest was brutally silenced by the Turkish government, but not before “international Jewry” was ‘identified’ as one of its main culprits by Prime Minister Erdogan, who claimed it was the work of the “interest-rate lobby,” a term regularly attributed to Jewish financiers and media moguls. According to the Turkish Prime Minister, the lobby aimed at hitting the Turkish economy and trying to bring down his government. While he was careful never to use the term ‘Jew’, it would not take long for one of his ministers to slip and actually pronounced that, indeed, international Jewry was one of the groups behind the Gezi protests.
Sure enough, not even a month had passed before Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was ousted in a coup d’etat, a major blow to Erdogan, who saw himself as a type of mentor for the Muslim Brotherhood leader. On social media, as the massacres in Egypt were taking place, I was astonished to see the number of tweets in Turkish attributing the overthrow of Morsi as a Jewish conspiracy; in fact, some even claimed that the people shooting the protesters were not even Muslims, but really Jews.
It took no time at all for Erdogan to come out and accuse Israel as masterminding the coup; the problem was however he was blaming a French Jewish intellectual, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who merely participated in a 2011 conference on the Arab Spring alongside then-Knesset Member Tzipi Livni. Even if this was a strangely concocted story, Erdogan seemingly believed it, along with many of his followers.
The turning point in the story of Turkish anti-Semitism was last December’s corruption scandal, which targeted high-government members and was perceived by Erdogan as an attempted judicial coup masterminded by his once staunch ally, the religious leader Fethullah Gulen, self-exiled to the United States, who has a substantial following in Turkey and other parts of the world.
While most of Erdogan’s focus was purging thousands of police and judicial officials believed to be have ties with the Gulen movement, or what Erdogan coined the “parallel state,” it took no time at all for the PM and his supporters to remember that Gulen had been critical of the Turkish government’s role in the Gaza Flotilla – thus, of course, he too must have been under the wing of Israel.
Throughout all of this, Erdogan has had to work to retain a wide front of support, incorporating and rewarding numerous groups, including the once-marginal anti-Semitic newspapers, which are now much closer to the ruling circles of power. All of these changes also led to a transformation in Turkey’s political culture, which has become extremely polarized. Over the last year, Erdogan has regularly lashed out against his opponents in crude and offensive language.
There is no doubt that through these polarizing politics he has been able to consolidate his already strong conservative base – but at the cost of alienating many other sectors of Turkish society.
It would be erroneous to think that ‘world Jewry’ was the only target of his attacks. During the Gezi campaigns, protesters were falsely accused of attacking a religious woman and desecrating a mosque, allegations that despite being disproven were reproduced in all the major pro-government papers and repeated numerous times by Erdogan. Following the break with the Gulen movement, Erdogan’s language hit new levels when he declared a witch hunt against them, stating that “in order to sterilize this dirty water that contaminated the milk, we will either boil or vaporize it.”
When a group representing Alevis, Turkey’s largest religious minority, voiced opposition to Erdogan, he offensively questioned their religious beliefs as Muslims. Erdogan then caused anger among Turkey’s very small Shiite community when he explained that the Gulenists were even worse than Shiites in sedition and malice. In fact, in a similar way, MP Zafer Caglayan, in reference to the Gulen movement, said that he would have understood their (treacherous) actions had they been Jews, Zoroastrians, or Atheists; this lead to a harsh state of condemnation by Turkey’s Chief Rabbinate. 
If things were not polarized enough, Turkey for the first time will go to the polls in August to vote in a president, with Erdogan as one of the main candidates, providing fertile ground for this latest wave of anti-Semitism. However, it seems that rather dictating a moderating path, Erdogan took the cues of radical voices, leading to him making even harsher statements than in the past. Further, we must remember that anti-Semitism and praise for Hitler - and protests against Israel – have provided a sense of unity and joint purpose among some divided parts of Turkish society.
During the last two weeks, Turkish Jews have been subjected to the ugliest of campaigns, with blatant threats lodged against the community, and even against foreign Jewish tourists. One author demanded that the Jews publicly condemn Israel, or else they could be subjected to pogroms such as that faced by Turkey’s Greek community in 1955. In the same newspaper, Yeni Akit, there was a cross-word-type game with Hitler’s portrait adorning the central panel with the slogan: “We are longing for you.” Many Turks reacted with shock, but this was by no means an isolated incident. One pro-government news source tweeted the dangerously inciteful words of IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Bulent Yildirim, who declared: “If the Turkish Jewish community does not put an end to Israel’s actions, very bad things will happen.” He explained in a succeeding tweet that it was getting hard to constrain ‘our youth’,  in effect suggesting that violence against Turkish Jews was imminent.
If such statements by the pro-government press were not enough, a ruling party AKP MP, Samil Tayyar, tweeted a message to Jews: Let your race be finished off, and may Hitler never be too far away. Further, Erdogan loyalist and mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, came out in support of singer Yildiz Tilbe who praised Hitler on Twitter.
It was following these expressions of hate towards Jews that Erdogan, in an election campaign speech, positioned Israeli barbarism as even worse than Hitler’s, a claim would clearly cause grave offense to any Jew regardless of their affiliation with Israel. He followed this up by hedging his position, stating: “I don't approve of any (bad) attitude towards our Jewish citizens in Turkey, despite all this. Why? They are the citizens of this country.” These words, at least nominally upholding the right to safety of the Jewish citizens of Turkey, seem far too little and also too late. He has still made no public condemnation of his own party members’ praise of Hitler and their anti-Semitic statements, nor has he condemned the threats made against members of the Turkey’s Jewish community in the pro-government press.
On the bright side of this darkening picture, if social media in Turkey has provided a breeding-ground for anti-Semitic statements, it also has brought to light the condemnation of anti-Semitism by numerous Turkish columnists and appalled individuals, with voices even emerging in the more moderate pro-government press. However, it seems safe to say that in the wake of the current atmosphere of blatant anti-Semitism, more Jewish families will be convinced that the time has come to leave, a decision already made by many of the Jewish members over the last decade. If they stay, they are choosing to survive within their own psychological and physical bubble, or to carry on by ignoring the fact that many of their compatriots see them as the enemy.
*This article appeared originally in Haaretz; I am placing the entire text here since due to the paywall sometimes the link is blocked.