Anti-Semitism in Turkey has increased over the past decade partly because of government policies and rhetoric by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders, said Efrat Aviv at an international conference on Wednesday at Bar-Ilan University titled “Turkey – Where to?” The conference was organized by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, with the assistance of Aviv, a researcher at BESA and a lecturer in the department of Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan.

A poll she conducted under the auspices of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism showed that Erdogan’s rhetoric resulted in higher anti- Semitism in the country.

Aviv described how Jews in Turkey live on edge, particularly because of the upsurge in tensions with Israel under the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

In public Turkish Jews tend not even to use the word “Israel,” she said, instead referring to “the state.”

Since the AKP came to power by winning elections in 2002, it has slowly Islamized society and become more authoritative, which were some of the reasons behind the protests by mainly liberal Turks over the past couple of months in Taksim Square.

Aviv also noted that the Turkish press and government officials have been demonizing Jews and involving them in various conspiracy theories. One of the most recent examples was when Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay linked the protests to the “Jewish Diaspora.”

Most anti-Semitism in Turkey comes from the radical Right, radical Muslims, or the far Left, according to Aviv.

When a Jew became Turkey’s representative at the Eurovision song contest, “some journalists were surprised and it caused a stir in Turkey about whether a Jew can represent Turkey.

Aviv, who gave a balanced picture of the situation, also noted that there were some intellectuals calling for zero tolerance on the issue. Another interesting point was that the Jewish immigration rate to Israel from Turkey has not risen during AKP rule.

Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of BESA, said that Israel-bashing is a tool the regime uses to gain “popularity in the Muslim world.”

Israel’s apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident was an attempt by Israel to improve relations, but “of course the apology did not meet all the demands of Turkey – it did not work,” he said.

“Like the rest of the Arab world, they [Turkey] smelled the weakness of Obama,” so they were not going to listen to him and apologize quickly to Israel. In fact, “Erdogan slapped Obama in public by telling him, while standing next to him, that he would go to Gaza.”

“I am a realpolitik kind of guy,” said Inbar, adding that showing weakness in this region is not wise.

Inbar went on to state that he said all along that it was a mistake to apologize, and a new BESA poll found that 71 percent of the Israeli public agrees that Israel should not have apologized.

“Israelis have common sense that doesn’t exist in some ministries in Jerusalem,” he quipped.

Inbar predicted that Turkey- Israel relations would continue to be poor, and that the idea that Israel would cooperate with Turkey by building a pipeline through the country to export its gas to Europe “is a pipe dream, and it does not make any strategic sense to strengthen Turkey at this stage.”

Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New-York-based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser at the Pentagon, said that the real issue is that “Islam is provoking the West” and not vice versa.

The US ignored Japan during World War II and then suddenly was attacked at Pearl Harbor, leading to an instant and dramatic change in US public opinion toward the war. Similarly, said Rhode, something could happen that “would fill the West with enormous rage.”

Of course, there are moderate voices in the Islamic world, but these people fear expressing themselves, he said.

Rhode said that his many years of experience in the Pentagon and traveling throughout the Islamic world showed him that the Western concept of compromise is foreign to the Middle East, as it is a Western conception.

In the Islamic world, it is shameful to compromise, he asserted.

Taner Aydin, the bureau chief in Israel of the Anadolu Agency, the official government news agency in Turkey, tried to put a positive spin on AKP rule, stating that the party brought economic stability to the country, successfully getting through the worldwide economic crisis.

He defended the government’s crackdown on protesters, stating that “no democracy would allow that.”

In Israel, he said, “when Palestinians throw stones, the police act. The same is true in Turkey.”

On the jailing of journalists, he claimed that “no one in Turkey is in jail because of their writing against the government.”

Those who have been arrested were involved with the terrorist PKK organization, he said.

He countered the notion that the country was being Islamized, stating that the new alcohol restrictions did not ban the substance but simply limited its sale after certain hours, which is similar, he emphasized, to the laws of other European countries which limit the sale of alcohol to certain times of day.

Metin Heper, a Turkish professor from Bilkent University in Ankara, stated that it is difficult to make judgments about Turkish anti-Semitism without seeing concrete data.

He noted that the periphery came to the center and now plays an important role in Turkish politics.

Responding to a comment that Turkey is in a mess, he responded that this was an exaggeration.

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