Erdogan's Words to Turkish Jews Ring Hollow

When it comes to the safety of the Jewish community in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to think he can have it both ways.

On one hand, he makes clear that the Jewish community should feel safe in their own country as passions have erupted into street demonstrations and violence over the Gaza conflict. “Jews in Turkey are our citizens,” he told the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah recently. “We are responsible for their security of life and property.”

On the other hand, Erdogan believes the Turkish Jewish community has an obligation to toe the government’s hostile line toward Israel, and has urged them to issue a statement condemning the Jewish state’s military action in Gaza. “I talked to our Jewish citizens’ leaders on Thursday, and I stated that they should adopt a firm stance and release a statement against the Israeli government. I will contact them again, but whether or not they release a statement, we will never let Jewish people in Turkey get hurt,” he said.

Implied in his words, and those of other government leaders, is that the Jewish community would be better off – and safer in their own country -- if they condemned Israel’s actions outright.

This is where things get dicey. Asking the Jewish community to speak up about Israel reeks of anti-Semitism.

Erdogan’s recent comments about the Jewish community of Turkey conveyed a dangerous double message. First he reiterated the historical stance of Turkey’s responsibility for their safety and security. But in calling on them to publicly stand against Israel at a time when that is Turkey’s policy, he conveyed to the people of Turkey that if the Jews in Turkey do not do this, they are not being “good Turks.” The result, ironically, is to signal yet another longstanding anti-Semitic stereotype that “Jews are not loyal” to the countries where they live. And it puts the Jewish community in a terrible position of having to choose between the official hostile anti-Israel posture of their country and their own personal feelings on a difficult situation.

So, we do not believe Prime Minister Erdogan has provided much reassurance to the Turkish Jewish community in these trying times.

His comments suggest, among other things, that the Jewish community is a monolith when it comes to Israel, when in fact there is a diversity of views within the community, including some who do, and some who do not, support the military campaign to root out Hamas rockets and terrorism.

No Jewish community anywhere should be asked to pick sides in this political conflict. Asking them to do so, in an environment where passions are already inflamed over the conflict in Gaza and where street protests have turned violent, with expressions of anti-Semitism and attacks on Israeli embassy and consulate buildings, is enough to suggest to some that the community itself is another potential target. In Turkey, there are historical precedents for such beliefs taking hold among the populace, and they have not ended well.

Making matters worse, Mr. Erdogan’s hostile views of Israel and Israelis, and his support for the Hamas terror organization in Gaza, are well known and shocking.

By providing financial and diplomatic to support to Hamas, a terror organization committed to the elimination of Israel''s existence and whose essential political philosophy actions are deeply anti-Semitic, Erdogan has placed Turkey squarely on the side of terror and violence.

Mr. Erdogan''s aid and comfort to Hamas terrorists serves to prolong the hostilities and is counterproductive to the efforts of others seeking to end the current round of fighting.

In recent years expressions of anti-Semitism in Turkey have significantly increased. This is particularly troubling and dangerous because we know, based on the results of ADL polling on anti-Semitism in Turkey, that anti-Jewish attitudes and beliefs are, sadly, held by fully 69 percent of the adult Turkish population.

This increase is fueled, in part, by harsh comments about Jews and Israel made by Erdogan, other officials in his government and influential journalists. ADL has publicly criticized those comments and called on the prime minister to refrain from making references invoking anti-Semitic conspiracies and statements, which amount to scapegoating the Jews of Turkey by suggesting they have some responsibility for actions of Israel which Mr. Erdogan opposes.

Such comments legitimize anti-Jewish stereotypes and reinforce prejudiced beliefs about Jews held by so many people in Turkey. This is a truly sad turn of events for a country that has in fact served as a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution through the centuries, including the Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from Spain who were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century.

In 2005, ADL bestowed its Courage to Care Award recognizing the efforts of various Turkish diplomats to protect and save the lives of Jews from persecution and death at the hands of the Nazis. The award was presented on behalf of the courageous Turkish diplomats to Prime Minister Erdogan during his visit to New York.

It was their courage, their humanity, their display of the best the Turkish people are capable of doing that we honored. At the time the award was presented, Mr. Erdogan spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitism and clearly stated anti-Semitism had no place in Turkey.

The more recent comments from Mr. Erdogan do not change the fact that, during World War II, Jewish lives were saved by Turkish diplomats who were not infected with the virus of anti-Jewish prejudice, who saw people in need of protection and acted to save them.

Recently there have been calls by some for us to rescind the honor based on Erdogan’s recent positions toward Israel and his Jewish community. But we believe it would be wrong for ADL to withdraw its recognition of those diplomats today because the current leader of Turkey is fanning the flames of anti-Semitism and supporting a terrorist organization whose essential ideology is anti-Semitic and which seeks to eliminate Israel, the national homeland of the Jewish people.