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Antisemitism rises in Turkey during Israel-Hamas war

 As the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates, Turkey is witnessing a troubling increase in antisemitic sentiment, exacerbated mainly by media coverage and political discourse.

The Jewish community in Turkey has raised concerns about rising antisemitism amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group.

Karel Valansi, a columnist for the Turkish Jewish newspaper Salom and the T24 news website, told DW that Jews are increasingly being associated with Israeli policies.

"What we see from the rhetoric of politicians, the press and social media is this: In the perception, Jews are completely removed from the position of citizens of the Republic of Turkey and turned into ambassadors and extensions of the state of Israel, and the anger against this state is directed toward Turkish Jews," Valansi said.

Flags of Turkey and Israel .jpegFlags of Turkey and Israel .jpeg
The governments of Turkey and Israel had been reconciling before the fighting began

According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, "accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations" is a contemporary example of antisemitism. The US, Germany and more than 40 other governments have formally adopted or endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism, 

Valansi also said antisemitic tendencies in public discourse, such as comments glorifying Adolf Hitler and Nazi ideologies, were resurfacing, causing a sense of insecurity among Jewish Turks.

More than 1,400 Israelis have died following the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas and allied groups. More than 7,000 people have been killed in Gaza in Israeli strikes since.

Hamas has been designated a terror organization by the EU, the US, Germany and other governments.

'Enmity and hatred'

As civilian deaths have amplified the tensions, some newspapers in Turkey are accused of promoting a sense of war.

"There are newspapers that are almost shouting war cries," Faruk Bildirici, an independent ombudsman and media commentator who spent nine years as the readers representative of the national daily newspaper Hurriyet, told DW.

The front page of the Yeni Safak newspaper.jpegThe front page of the Yeni Safak newspaper.jpeg
Yeni Safak headlines: "This Terror State Must Be Destroyed" and "The Ummah is Standing'Image: Yeni Safak

On October 18, following the attack on the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, the front page of the pro-government daily Yeni Safak, a Turkish had the headlines: "This Terror State Must Be Destroyed" and "The Ummah is Standing" — ummah refers to the global Muslim community.

Bildirici raised concerns about framing the conflict as an interreligious war, noting that this would fuel animosity further.

Portraying "what is going on as 'the ummah standing up' means that the war is being viewed and portrayed as a war between the West and the East or between Islam and Christianity/Judaism," Bildirici said. "This fuels enmity and hatred against the West and Christianity/Judaism."

On October 17, the pro-government Islamist daily Yeni Akit targeted Jewish Turks with the front-page headline "Deport the Zionist Servants from Citizenship."

Yeni Akit claimed that Jewish Turks are "considered citizens of Israel by nature" and, therefore, are going to Israel from cities such as Istanbul and Izmir to join the military service during the war.

Avlaremoz, a news and opinion website focused on Jewish affairs and antisemitism in Turkey, criticized Yeni Akit for coverage that does not reflect the truth.

Antisemitism spreads online

Hashtags such as #TürkiyeYahudileriVatandaşlıktanAtılsın (Expel Turkish Jews from citizenship) have arisen to target people who post about Israel.

Jewish artists and writers, even those not active on social media, have faced criticism for not publicly supporting Palestine.

The Jewish community within Turkey has broadly advocated for peace.

In a statement released on October 18, the Turkish Chief Rabbinate Foundation-Turkish Jewish Community wrote: "We strongly reject and condemn the targeting and killing of innocent civilians under any circumstances and wherever they are — particularly in places like hospitals, schools [and] nursing homes.

"We support the efforts of our state, the Republic of Turkey, since the first day to urgently restore peace and wish that all people can be brought to a lasting peace as soon as possible."

Antisemitism in politics

Some Turkish politicians have also turned to antisemitism in their rhetoric.

Addressing the Israel-Hamas conflict during a meeting of the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to Hamas as a "group of mujahideen," an Arabic meaning those fighting for Islam, rather than a terrorist organization. Erdogan also said he had canceled plans to visit Israel.

AKP and opposition politicians alike have showed their support for Hamas since the conflict began. On Tuesday, Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, another of Erdogan's alliance partners, called on Turkey to intervene in the conflict militarily to protect Gaza if a cease-fire cannot be achieved within 24 hours.

So far, there have been no large-scale organized demonstrations in Turkey against the Israel-Hamas conflict. However, riot control vehicles are waiting in front of the synagogues in Turkey for security purposes.

After the hospital explosion in Gaza, different groups gathered in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul and the embassy residence in Ankara to protest.

Some protesters in Istanbul shouted "takbir," an Islamic chant that means "God is the greatest," and broke through the outer walls of the plaza where the Israeli consulate was located.

Thousands march in a street in Ankara, with Turkish flags and signs in-hand.jpegThousands march in a street in Ankara, with Turkish flags and signs in-hand.jpeg
Turkish protesters in Ankara hold a sign reading 'No to Genocide'Image: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

AKP's Istanbul branch announced that a "Great Palestine Rally" will be held on October 28 at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Erdogan is expected to attend, as are the leaders of the parties in his ruling alliance.

Turkish Jews as equal citizens

Valansi said Jews were equal citizens who had contribute to Turkey's development and cultural fabric. Valansi said despite their long history in Anatolia, Turkish Jews are sometimes perceived as outsiders, a notion at odds with their significant contributions to the country.

"The public understanding of citizenship in Turkey does not include non-Muslims," Valansi said. "Despite being one of the founding elements of the Republic, Jews are perceived as guests, as a community to be tolerated and expected to show constant gratitude."

Most Jewish Turks reside in Istanbul. However, the increasing antisemitism has driven many to emigrate, including to Israel.

A population that had stood at 81,000 people nearly a century ago, according to 1927 census data, is now approximately 16,000-17,000, according to Turkey's Jewish community.

Pelin Ünker DW, 26 October 2023


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