Washington Watch: Is Erdogan the new Ahmadinejad?

Erdogan’s brand of bigotry is costing him some of the glory he covets.

Erdogan jazz hands 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erdogan jazz hands 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leaves the Iranian presidency in just over two weeks, the man most likely to succeed him as the most outspoken anti- Semitic world leader is Turkey’s volatile prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There may be competition for the title, but so far he’s the frontrunner.
Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, threats to wipe Israel off the map and other bombast have made him a pariah in the civilized world, and Erdogan’s brand of bigotry is costing him some of the glory he covets. He had wanted to be the leader of the Arab/Muslim world in the Middle East, replacing the moribund Egyptians as the one who would broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but he has managed to alienate both sides.
When his neo-Ottoman dream of building a great mosque and shopping mall in Istanbul’s popular Gezi Park in Taksim Square triggered weeks of massive anti-government demonstrations, disorders he blamed on an all-too-familiar scapegoat: the Jews. When, on Erdogan’s orders, the police launched a brutal assault to drive out the demonstrators, he only ignited even greater demonstrations around the country.
It is too early to tell how much political damage the demonstrations and his response did to Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), but the brutal crackdown may already have dashed his ambition to create a presidential system for Turkey and for himself when his third term ends in 2014. Turkey’s long-delayed bid for EU membership was further damaged by the Taksim crackdown.
So who was to blame for these setbacks? The Jews, of course.
The Turkish demonstrators were protesting Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic and authoritarian rule and his efforts to impose his Islamist viewpoint. The public outrage was planted, cultivated and grown at home, and the government’s brutal response – a reminder of Bashar Assad’s response to peaceful demonstrations in Syria two years ago – only exacerbated the problem.
Erdogan is paranoid, thin-skinned and convinced of his own infallibility, and “polarizing, self-aggrandizing...
confrontational, vindictive and repressive,” according to Gareth Jenkins, a Turkish-based analyst with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.
He does not tolerate criticism and is loathe to admit mistakes, which makes reconciliation with Israel particularly difficult despite getting the apology he demanded for the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. But that’s only part of the problem; more troubling is his deep-seated hostility toward Jews and Israel. He makes no distinction between Jews and Israel, and has called Zionism a crime against humanity.
On June 16, hours before Erdogan was to address his party’s rally in Istanbul after the police crackdown in Gezi Park, a pro-AKP newspaper claimed it had evidence the protests were part of an anti-Erdogan plot orchestrated by the “Jewish lobby” in the US, specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, and assorted and mostly Jewish former Bush 43 administration neocons.
Several AKP leaders endorsed the accusations and claimed the Erdogan government had concrete proof of the conspiracy by the Jewish cabal to transform Taksim into Tahrir Square.
One was Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalayl, who fingered the “Jewish Diaspora” and was quoted in the pro-Erdogan Hurriyet Daily News saying: “There are some circles that are jealous of Turkey’s growth. They are all uniting, on one side the Jewish Diaspora. You saw the foreign media’s attitude during the Gezi Park incidents; they bought it and started broadcasting immediately, without doing an evaluation.”
He later claimed he was misquoted, but a recording of his remarks is reportedly on the Internet.
Another AKP official, Melih Gokcek, mayor of Ankara, posted a note on Twitter saying the protests were “a game of the Jewish lobby” to undermine the Turkish government.
What did Erdogan do to stop the anti-Semitic attacks? Nothing. He failed to distance himself from these accusations and, in fact, ordered an investigation into the foreign financiers and “interest lobby” – said to be his euphemism for Jewish bankers – behind the “dark forces” he says have been out to get him since long before the Taksim demonstrations because they’re jealous of Turkey’s “rise to greatness” under his leadership. He suggested Israel must be “delighted” with the protests because they served its interests.
A former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, Gaby Levy, has said, “He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously and his hatred is spreading.”
An Israeli foreign ministry report said since Erdogan took power he “has conducted an ongoing process of... fashioning a negative view of Israel in Turkish public opinion,” including repeatedly accusing Israel of war crimes and even “anti-Semitic expressions and incitement.”
In Erdogan’s Turkey “Jews are targeted as individuals, a community, people and race, and as a sinister political entity seeking Jewish dominance of world affairs, business and media,” reports MEMRI, the media monitoring organization.
Erdogan, who has championed the cause of Hamas, the terrorist organization dedicated to destroying the Jewish state, has accused Israel of killing “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians” and said “the image of the Jews is no different from that of the Nazis.” Israel’s “murder of innocent children” goes unreported because “the world media is under the control of Israel.”
The growing anti-Semitism under Erdogan’s rule has been unnerving for Turkey’s Jewish community, which expressed worry about “the consequences” of talk about a Jewish conspiracy being behind the demonstrations.
The Turkish media carry articles questioning the loyalty of Turkish Jews, according to Israel’s foreign ministry, and Erdogan “grants legitimacy” or “turns a blind eye” to television programs of an “inflammatory, anti-Semitic nature.”
American Jewish organizations have voiced concern for the safety of Turkish Jews. The ADL’s Abe Foxman said the anti-Semitic attacks are “all the more outrageous and harmful” coming from top government officials.
US President Barack Obama has called Erdogan one of the five world leaders with whom he has “friendship and bonds of trust.” It’s time to reevaluate.
Turkey’s continued belligerence toward Israel and Jews is a slap at Obama, who brokered the Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara incident that Erdogan demanded – and when he failed to deliver on his end, Obama was silent.
Obama needs to stop treating the thin-skinned bigot like an important ally and recognize him for the racist hate-monger that he is and let him know that such behavior is unacceptable.
Obama doesn’t need to act because he needs the Jewish vote – he’s already got it. This has nothing to do with the Jews; it’s about bigotry, human rights, decency and American leadership.
Paranoid autocrats and religious zealots make unreliable and dangerous allies.[email protected] www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/douglas_ bloomfield