A tragedy universally acknowledged: more than 300 people died in the Soma mine collapse in Turkey earlier this month, with hundreds more workers trapped underground. Charges have been leveled at the mine’s managers for negligence and inadequate safety standards have been cited as a contributing factor.
Yet, in response to this tragedy, one pro-government Turkish daily has gone out of its way to point the finger at the Jews. One could laugh at how nonsensical it is, except the deaths of hundreds and the invocation of Jews as the alleged perpetrators is not funny. It is, however, a good example of how a country can be subjected to pervasive antisemitism, including media lambasting the supposedly evil Jews.
It is clear this accusation is not an isolated example of bigotry, but part of a widespread antipathy towards Jews in Turkey, evidenced by the attitudes and statements of many elements of society and government. The latter has not only failed to adequately respond to open racist incitement, but has itself often been complicit in encouraging this pervasive prejudice.
The May 20 edition of the pro-government daily Yeni Akit had a front-page headline trumpeting the startling revelation that the owner of the mining company responsible for Soma, Alp Gürkan, supposedly has a Jewish son-in-law. The front page blasted him for “giving his daughter to a Jew” – as if that were something obviously shameful. The paper ran columns on the “Jewish son-in-law” and stated “all info on the Soma incident leads us to Israel.” A translated excerpt from the article is below:
While the cartel media, which have Jewish partners, and the parallel media, which are in love with Jews, and the Western media guided by Jews are accusing the prime minister over the Soma disaster, it has been revealed that the son-in-law of Alp Gurkan, the owner of the mining company that is responsible for the disaster, is a Jew named Mario Asafrana, who changed his name and is now called ‘Mahir’.
In other words, the paper implied that Jewish-controlled domestic and foreign media was attacking Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over his handling of the mine disaster to distort the truth behind the tragedy because Jews were actually somehow responsible.
It would seem absurd – why would a newspaper go to such lengths to invent a ridiculous theory when charges are already being laid against those responsible for the maintenance of the mine?
It might be related to widespread reports that during a protest in response to the mine collapse, Prime Minister Erdogan shouted an anti-Israel slur at a protestor. Erdogan allegedly struck a protester and shouted: “Why are you running away from me, Israeli spawn?”
There is some dispute about the exact phrase said by Erdogan in the video – which is somewhat unclear. Regardless of what was actually said, it appears parts of the Turkish media have taken the reports of the slur as a signal to make the Soma disaster about Jews.
This isn’t the first time the Turkish government has been viewed as encouraging antisemitic conspiracy theories in response to events in Turkey. Last year 46 US Congressmen condemned Erdogan over his statement that the 2013 protests in Turkey were the result of the “interest rate lobby” which, the Congressmen noted, appeared to be a veiled reference to Jews. Erdogan’s Deputy Besir Ataly certainly seemed to confirm as much by stating that the “Jewish diaspora” were behind the widespread protests. For his remarks, Erdogan was named as the runner up on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of the year’s top ten antisemitic and anti-Zionist slurs, beaten only by Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Günther Jikeli and Kemal Silay, two scholars writing on Turkey in Haaretz, recently identified a number of additional worrying trends evident in Turkey, relating to antisemitic attitudes and the positions of the government:
A closer look shows that the anti-Semitic incidents of recent years are deeply rooted in the current AKP government and Erdoğan’s personality; they also have increasing resonance in the wider Turkish society…Instead of condemning their Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred of Jews, the Turkish PM has become known for his own anti-Semitism. Instead of fighting corruption, the Erdoğan government disseminates conspiracy theories and hatred against minorities.
Only months ago it was reported that many young Turkish Jews were emigrating – citing growing antisemitism and negative attitudes towards Israel as reasons for hostility and threats to their personal safety. Emigrants noted that many within Turkey do not distinguish between Israel and local Jews and do not consider Jews to be Turks:
The Muslims in Turkey fail to distinguish between Israel and the local Jews. As far as they are concerned, if you’re not Muslim you’re not a Turk. You can even serve in the army and have a significant Turkish identity, but in their eyes that doesn’t count. They are not even interested in understanding. If you’re Jewish – you’re not Turkish.
A member of the Jewish community in Istanbul said he could not give an open interview about the atmosphere against Jews in the country, in light of the sensitive and explosive situation. The current tensions, he explained, could lead to an additional deterioration in the bad relations and to attacks on Jews and their property.
The deteriorating relationship between Turkey and Israel, most evident following the Mavi Marmara’s attempted breach of the Gaza blockade in 2010, has put a significant strain on relations between Turkey’s Jews and their government, as vitriolic rhetoric against both Israel and local Jews has become more prevalent.
In 2013 Erdogan went so far as to claim Israel was responsible for the uprising in Egypt and removal of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military. Also in 2013, Erdogan equated Zionism to fascism at a UN Conference and declared it a crime against humanity.
In that same speech, he condemned antisemitism, equating it with Islamophobia.
This was not the first time that Erdogan has condemned antisemitism. In 2005 before the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] in New York he stated:
Anti-Semitism is a shameful mental illness; it is a perversion. The Jewish genocide [Holocaust] is the heaviest crime against humanity throughout history. Genocide, discrimination, Islamophobia, Christianophobia, ethnic cleansing are all different forms of the same illness.
Yet the reality in Turkey makes it appear that such words have neither been heard nor heeded.
Labeling Jews the cause of the mine disaster is not only disparaging and alienating to Turkish Jewry, it insults and demeans those lost in the tragedy and their suffering families, who deserve real answers.
There are a variety of reasonable ways to explain and allocate blame for what happened at Soma. Accusing ‘the Jews’ is not one of them.
Turkey is increasingly looking like an example of what happens when open antisemitism becomes part of the acceptable discourse within a country – even if it is not labelled for what it is by those who perpetrate or excuse it. Similar openly antisemitic discourse has long existed in many of the autocracies of the Middle East. It is of great concern that Turkey, a self-identified democracy, part of Europe, and a country with a reasonably substantial Jewish community with ancient roots is suffering from this hatred.
Needless to say, this is not a situation that the international community should tolerate or excuse in the 21st century, something that needs to be made very clear to Erdogan and the wider Turkish government.
– Glen Falkenstein