By Uzay Bulut
Published first in providencemag.com/
The president of the California-based organization TURCA-Society of Turkish Americans, Vakkas Doğantekin, has verbally assaulted a Turkish immigrant selling ice cream, calling him a “Jewish dog.”
“I was going to buy ice cream, but I learned you are a member of FETÖ [the ‘Fethullah Terrorist Organization’] so I changed my mind,” said Doğantekin before he started his rant against the man, who was wearing a cap with the word “Turkey” printed on it.
“Are you not ashamed of putting on a Turkey cap? Do you think I would eat anything you give me? You are fighting against Muslims. Jewish dogs! You do not even have the slightest right to say anything. You cannot even look at my face. Terrorists!” Doğantekin shouted at the vendor in a video uploaded on social media on November 6.
The man who filmed the video ended it by saying, “We love Turkey. We love Erdoğan.”
The posts on TURCA’s website make it clear that the organization is an avid supporter of Turkey’s mercurial and increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Doğantekin is not the first Turkish national to claim that FETÖ is a “Jewish organization.”
On July 15, 2016, an attempted coup d’état took place in Turkey. Shortly afterwards, the Turkish government declared that the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers were behind it. A state of emergency was declared, and a massive purge targeting thousands of people began not only in Turkey but also in several other countries.
Moreover, Turkey announced the existence of a new terrorist group: The Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure, otherwise known as the “FETÖ/PDY” (“Fetullahçı Terör Örgütü/Paralel Devlet Yapılanması”).
Since the coup attempt, Turkish government authorities have designated FETÖ as an “enemy of Turkey and Islam.” Logically, a Turkish citizen would then be expected to ask: How can a Muslim Turk commit all those acts against Turkey and Islam? What is the religion of FETÖ members?
Anti-Semitism is widespread in Turkey and intensely motivated by Islamic scriptures. Some Turkish authorities and opinion-shapers have chosen the “easy” way: Use the “Jew card” to demonize Gülen and his supporters. Many pro-government news websites and discussion forums, including pro-government newspapers, are filled with columns that claim Gülen is actually Jewish.
A columnist with the pro-government newspaper Sabah, Ersin Ramoğlu, for example, wrote a column entitled “Fethullah Gülen: a Karaite Jew,” in which he “described” how “Jewish Fethullah Gülen has destroyed Turkey, such as by poisoning thousands of young people in his schools.” Then he explained why Gülen engages in all those atrocities: For he is originally a “Karaite Jew” and “a disgrace to the noble Turks.”
“Fethullah Gülen smells money and power immediately,” wrote Ramoğlu. “For he is a Jew.”
Tamer Korkmaz, a journalist with the pro-government Yeni Şafak, also wrote a detailed article “exposing” the Jewish roots and agendas of Fethullah Gülen.
Referring to an alleged request for a passport form that Gülen supposedly submitted to a police station in 1986, Korkmaz wrote that Gülen’s mother’s name was Rabin, “a name considered sacred by Jews!” Korkmaz also declared that Gülen’s ancestors “were Sephardi Jews who moved from Spain to Turkey.”
He continued: “And Gülen has been in close cooperation with all the cells of both the Christian and Jewish leaders for years. And this deep cooperation targets Islam in general and independent Muslim Turkey in particular.”
Korkmaz also claimed that “FETÖ, the Commander of the Occupying Forces of the Crusader Zionist Front, organized the coup to take over Turkey and turn it into a colony of the West like it was before. The failure of the attempted coup is also a great defeat for Western states that are enemies of Islam, and this huge fiasco has sent Fethullah, the son of Rabin, into an extraordinary depression.”
Moreover, some government officials have publicly expressed similar delusions.
Orhan Deligöz, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), for example, said on the pro-government Kanal A Channel: “Fethullah Gülen’s father is Armenian; his mother is Jewish.” Referring to Gülen’s alleged passport application as evidence, Deligöz declared that “Gülen’s mother was Rabin, who was a Jewish woman from Iran.”
The MP knows that his double racism against Armenians and Jews is certain to enhance the hatred of many Turks against Gülen and his supporters. These two communities are continually exposed to hate speech and insulting epithets in Turkey. Armenians and Jews are consistently targeted in hate speech in the Turkish national and local newspapers, according to the data issued by the Hrant Dink Foundation, which has been conducting a study entitled “Media Watch on Hate Speech” since 2009.
So, what are members of the Jewish community in Turkey who might feel threatened by being falsely associated with a terrorist organization that the government claims to be behind the attempted coup supposed to do? Seek justice in Turkish courts? That would be fruitless and even dangerous at worst, as some Turkish prosecutors have echoed similar views concerning the Gülen movement.
Hüsnü Aldemir, the chief prosecutor of the city of Çankırı, for example, said at a public meeting that “FETÖ is very intricate and is totally a Jewish organization. Everything they do is planned. That is why we’re going over our investigations with a fine-tooth comb.”
What do Gülen’s actions have to do with his alleged Armenian and Jewish identity? Nothing.
Gülen is an Islamic cleric whose writings, activities, and public speeches are mostly about Islamic matters or how to promote Islam. Many activists of the Gülen movement appear to engage in what the Muslim Brotherhood has called “civilization jihad”—via the schools, cultural centers, and NGOs that they have opened across the world and through which they strive to spread the influence of Islam and Muslims in the societies in which they operate.
So, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement are actually two similar groups with similar political and religious goals. But the root cause of the conflict between them appears to be their inability or unwillingness to share power, as well as some minor political or tactical disagreements.
Now the government openly aims to annihilate its new “arch-enemies,” the Gülenists, who until a few years ago used to be the AKP’s close political allies and business partners. It would not be an overstatement to say that these two groups were pretty much intertwined for decades.
The Turkish government now claims that it purges Gülenists and other “terrorists” in the name of “democracy.” But a parliamentary motion presented in May by the opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), calling for an investigation into “the political wing of the July 15 coup attempt,” was rejected by the ruling AKP’s MPs.
Instead, in order to convince Turkish citizens that Gülen poses a massive threat to Turkey and Islam, pro-government circles parrot the propaganda that Gülen is Jewish, which makes FETÖ a “Jewish terrorist organization.”
Engaging in racist and anti-Semitic stereotyping, they try to appeal to the extreme prejudice of their audience by labeling Gülen and his supporters as something they know their target audience fears or hates the most: the Jews.
They then use many other propaganda tactics, such as spreading disinformation, repeating false accusations and wild exaggerations, as well as half-truths. For example, being an Islamic cleric, Gülen is known to have met some Jews or Christians but, of course, that doesn’t make him Jewish.
In the meanwhile, the Turkish government has slammed “unacceptable” the historic US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
As the blatant manifestations of anti-Semitism in pro-government circles once again demonstrate, Turkey’s opposition to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is all about Turkey’s allergy to Jewish sovereignty in Israel.
Moreover, Turkish propagandists proudly equate being Jewish with being innately deceitful and destructive, for they know there are millions of people in Turkey who would be more than willing to buy into such anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Imagine this scenario: You live in Turkey and have political or economic power. And you urgently need to portray your real or perceived enemies as evil. But you don’t have the time, skills, or resources to target their arguments or acts. So, what should you do? Just call them Jewish.
* Uzay Bulut, a journalist and political analyst born in Turkey, is currently based in Washington D.C. She is an associate fellow of the Philos Project and a writing fellow of the Middle East Forum. Her journalistic work focuses mainly on Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities, political Islam, and the history of Turkey. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/uzayb.