(photo credit: AP)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is encouraging expressions of anti-Semitism in his country by espousing biased views and wholeheartedly accepting the Hamas narrative of the recent Gaza fighting, a senior Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Erdogan blasted Israel throughout the fighting, called on it to be barred from the UN, accused it of using white phosphorus against Gaza civilians and charged it with other "inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."
Yet during the fighting, Erdogan "did not utter one word that placed even one percent of the responsibility for the conflict on Hamas," said the Israeli official. "He has utterly adopted the Hamas narrative."
One example cited by the official of Erdogan's alleged encouragement of anti-Semitic sentiments came in a January 13 speech to Turkey's parliament in which, moments after he claimed to oppose anti-Semitism, Erdogan accused Jews of controlling the media and intentionally targeting civilians.
"Media outlets supported by Jews are disseminating false reports on what happens in Gaza, finding unfounded excuses to justify targeting of schools, mosques and hospitals," Erdogan charged.
As the country's prime minister was lambasting Israel repeatedly, Turkey's Jewish community was experiencing "the worst situation in memory," said someone close to the community.
The community, estimated to number some 26,000, has seen a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in the wake of Israel's operation against Hamas.
At anti-Israel demonstrations throughout the country, demonstrators were seen carrying blatantly anti-Semitic signs. At a demonstration in the industrial city of Eskisehir, for example, signs read, "Dogs allowed, but no Jews or Armenians."
Posters placed on billboards throughout Istanbul showed bloodied children from Gaza, and addressed Jews directly, calling them "no sons of Moses."
An Istanbul newspaper published a caricature this week showing Hitler flying an Israel Air Force jet, while another called for the expulsion of Turkey's chief rabbi and claimed the Torah permitted Jews to murder their own parents.
In the weeks since the Gaza operation began, Jewish community institutions were targets - alongside Israel's diplomatic missions - of hundreds of e-mails, faxes and phone calls that included, in the words of the Israeli official, "blatant anti-Semitism and curses."
At least one store in Istanbul's old city saw a sign posted outside notifying shoppers to avoid it because it was owned by Jews. Israeli officials have also followed calls on Turkish Internet sites to boycott Jewish businesses. There are reports of Jewish doctors who are losing patients because the patients are unwilling to be treated by Jews.
"I feel worried, sad and scared for myself and for my country's future, which is leaning towards racism," Turkish-Jewish academic Leyla Navaro wrote in the Radikal newspaper, Reuters reported.
Despite Jewish concern from Israel and abroad, however, the Post could get almost no reaction from the local Jewish community.
Members of the Turkish Jewish community either did not return calls or refused to speak on the matter, with one Turkish Jew in Israel saying only that people "feel it's too sensitive to talk right now."
According to Israeli diplomatic sources, official Israeli-Turkish relations have not been harmed, and the close military cooperation between the two states continues.
There have, however, been reports of a 70 percent drop in Israeli tourism to Turkey.
Perhaps to allay opposition anger at home over Erdogan's apparent siding with Hamas, the country's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan called on Hamas to abandon its violent ways.
"Hamas should make a decision. Do they want to be an armed organization or a political movement?" he said.
Speaking to Turkish television station NTV, Babacan reiterated that both Israel and Turkey wished to maintain their strong strategic ties.
"The relations between Turkey and Israel are strategic relations," he said, but added what may have been a veiled warning: "In an environment in which Turkey's relations with Israel are non-existent, Israel's presence in the region will not be that easy. The Israelis also understand that."
Despite the apparent conciliatory tone of Babacan's remarks, Israeli officials say it is Erdogan who determines policy and sets the political tone in the country.
Criticism of Erdogan's comments have also come from inside Turkey. Opposition-supporting media have noted that the diplomatic row over Gaza and spate of anti-Semitic incidents could drive the US Jewish community toward the Armenians' side in the political battle in the US over congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide.
American Jewish groups were widely reported in the Turkish press to have complained to the Turkish government about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including the closure of synagogues in Izmir and anti-Jewish propaganda in Istanbul.
A call to the Turkish Embassy seeking comment was not returned.