The trigger to my Facebook friendship with Sinem Tezyapar derived from a piece that I wrote years back for The Jerusalem Report following a visit to Istanbul with my wife. As the political atmosphere was starting to turn chilly we were told not to call attention to the fact that we were from Israel, not that we weren’t immediately recognized as Israelis by the shop stall owners.
My op-ed expressed regret at the estrangement between Judaism, and Islam and noted that I felt more comfortable with religiously observant Turkish Muslims as compared with their secular brethren who frequented Taksim Square.
Unfortunately, at that stage the Muslim hostility to Israel presumably precluded building bridges on shared religious values. If anybody would have mentioned the possibility of something akin to the Abraham Accords, he would have been dismissed as delusional. True, visionaries such as my late sainted rabbi Menachem Froman, were working at establishing inter-religious ties but in my arguments with him I remained skeptical because with Islam in a triumphalist mood the timing was simply off.
In any case, Teyzapar read the article and reached out to me to explain that within Turkish Islam there were sects, including her own, that took a much more positive view of Jews and Israel. I confess that I did not take her seriously enough but apparently the crackdown following the abortive coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did take her seriously and she is now one of thousands of Turkish political prisoners.
Tezyapar’s views definitely have little in common with the Muslim Brotherhood’s antisemitic animus that informs Hamas, Erdogan and the Qataris. In an article that she published, Teyzapar contended
“Jews are the descendants of prophets like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon; a Muslim cannot be silent in the face of those who try to annihilate the descendants of prophets.”
Even on the explosive issue of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Teyzapar offered a conciliatory position. “As all who call on the God of Abraham are brothers, Jews and Christians should be able to offer prayers there in dignity and peace along with Muslims. To cast believers out from such a place, to prevent worship there, is a heinous and, quite frankly, cruel policy, which is an offense not only to men, but to Islam.”
In addition to her refreshing contributions to the Turkish and Arabic press, Teyzapar tried to acquaint the Turkish public with Jewish religious leaders from Israel by inviting them to Turkey and introducing them to the media.
Such “deviant” thinking did not go unpunished. In the kangaroo court where Teyzapar was tried, she was accused of passing information to Israel. She was also accused of being a secret Jewess, a charge that is rife in Turkey since the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi and his followers converted to Islam.
I strongly feel that Tezyapar, who stood up for the Jewish people and the State of Israel deserves our support. Yes, Tezyapar is but one of thousands of victims, and the Erdogan regime is now passing legislation that would outlaw the major Kurdish party, virtually guaranteeing a new influx of political prisoners. All political prisoners deserve our sympathy, we must extend priority to those penalized for their advocacy on our behalf. This was the case with the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Although the victims of Stalinism totaled millions, Wallenberg aroused special interest given his role in saving thousands of Jews in Budapest from the German killing machine.
If Jews and the State of Israel decide to help Tezyapar I would strongly advise avoiding two courses of action: The first is the legalistic approach that points to flagrant violations of the Turkish judicial procedure in the hope that Erdogan or some other higher up will intervene and reverse the actions that his minions have taken. From what I have read, Tezyapar like many others was not granted a fair trial. But a fair trial was never in the cards. Erdogan’s Turkey is not a rechtstadt but a practitioner of prophylactic justice targeting anybody likely to prove hostile to the regime, regardless of the objective facts. The charge that Tezyapar was a secret Jew and a foreign agent were deliberately inserted to cause animosity towards Tezyapar recalling the absurd and sometimes self-contradictory charges in Soviet purge trials.
Second, the tactics that worked in the fight for Soviet Jewry may not be successful today. The world has drifted towards authoritarianism and there is little appetite to pressure authoritarian leaders where it counts.
Instead, Israel can offer Erdogan something that would increase his prestige in our region. Surely Israel can spare some low-level Hamas operative who did not murder Israelis but is still in an Israeli prison. Teyzapar fortunately has not achieved the status of a top tier political prisoner whose release would require a premium price. If the government of Israel is already proceeding along these lines then it can accept my thanks and apologies.■