The image of the jew in the rhetoric of political islam in Turkey
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When one studies the rhetoric used by the representatives of political Islam in Turkey, one perceives rapidly the important place occupied by the Jew. In this article this representation of the Jew will be analysed through an examination of the speeches and writings of the leaders of the National Order Party (NOP) and its successors the National Salvation Party (NSP), Welfare Party (WP) and finally the newly born Virtue Party (VP).2
With the end of the World War II the single party period of Turkey also came to an end. In the elections of May 14th 1950 Democrat Party (DP) won with a heavy majority. The new DP government took care of the sensibility of its electoral base on the religion issue and one month after having won the elections, it introduced again the reading of the Koran in Arabic, which from 1923 until 1945 had been only done in Turkish. Under the DP regime Islam expressed itself more freely than in the single party period, and the Islamic current revived in Turkey. As a result of this Islamic revival the antisemitic writer Cevat Rýfat Atýlhan3 established the Islamic Democratic Party on 27th August 1951. However the life of this party was short and it was closed down on 7th November 1952. After this short lived attempt Islam appeared on the political scene on January 26th 1970 with the establishment of the NOP.
The future leader of the NOP, Necmettin Erbakan, a professor of mechanical engineering, participated in the 1969 general elections as an independent candidate from Konya, a town known for its Islamic inclination and won a seat as an independent member of parliament. In an interview made before the elections with the Milliyet newspaper Erbakan said: "In the world there are three directions. 1. Communism, 2. Zionism, 3. Nationalism and the respect of the sacred things of every nation. We are obliged to choose the third way."4 These words prefigured the antiZionist and antisemitic rhetoric that Erbakan would use abundantly in his future political life.
After Erbakan won his parliamentary seat he founded the National Order Party on January 26th 1970. The day the NOP was established, Erbakan announced in a press conference that Zionists and freemasons would not be registered to the party.5 The interview that Erbakan gave to the Milliyet newspaper and this press conference were the early announcements of the two main features with which political Islam would distinguish itself in the future. The first represented the negative reaction to Turkey's dependence on the West, to the westernisation of Turkey, and the results of this westernisation on the socio-cultural life of Turkish people. The second feature included a strong dose of daily rhetoric where the terms Jew-Zionism-Israel were intermixed freely. The image of the “Jew” which emerged from this free intermixing would carry a very negative meaning. The supposed role played by the Jew would become a “sine qua non” characteristic of the daily rhetoric of the Islamic movement.
The political life of the National Order Party was short. The NOP was closed down by the Constitutional Court on May 20th 1971 on charges of acting against secularism. Fifteenth months later on October 11th 1972 it reappeared on the political scene this time as the National Salvation Party (NSP) which was also banned together with all the other political parties after the military coup of September 12th 1980.
The Welfare Party (WP) which was the successor of NSP was established on 19th July 1983. It was closed down 15 years after its establishment on 16th January 1998 by order of the Constitutional Court on charges of acting against laicism. As a result of this decision Erbakan and five parliamentaries of the WP were banned from political life for the next five years. All the parliamentarians of the WP registered with the Virtue Party (VP) which was established at the end of 1997 as a stand-by party against the eventual possibility of the WP being closed down. Recai Kutan, ex-deputy chairman of WP became the chairman of the new VP.
One common subject took a predominent place in the rhetoric of the political Islam in Turkey during the various phases it went through and in the various parties through which it was present in the political arena. This subject was the heavy anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric that Erbakan, his general staff and parliamentarians, as well as the semi-offical party newspaper Milli Gazete, which was established in 1973, and the magazine Gençlik of Milli Gençlik Vakfý (The National Youth Foundation), a foundation which coordinated youth activities of the party, used extensively.
When one examines the image of the Jew in the Turkish Islamic current one perceives what Jacob Landau has described as that of the "villain". This image of the “villain” is a hybrid one made out of a mixture of Christian anti-Jewish stereotype with freemasons and Zionists mixed in it.6
This antisemitic image emerged and flourished through newspapers, magazines, books and various forms of media and finally occupied an important place in the popular culture of Islamists. In other words the various parties, through which political Islam existed and continue to exist in Turkey expressed themselves in conformity with what their electoral base liked to hear, but the parties also believed in this rhetoric because they were nurtured through the same popular culture sources which shaped their electoral base.
When one studies how the "Jew" has been used in the rhetoric of the parties one can see that the main theme is the world domination by the Jew, in line with the spirit of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This theme took various forms according to political events happening in Turkey.
The "Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates" Theme or the Imperialist Zionist Ideal of Israel
This main and ever lasting view of Zionism took its source from the Genesis book of the Old Testament where it was said in chapter 15 line 18, "In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great River, the river Euphrates”, and from the book Deuteronomy, Chapter 4, line 24, where it was said “Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the river, the river Euphrates, event Unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be”.
The Islamists took these lines as the strong proof of the expansionist ideal of Zionism. In their minds this was already proved by the territorial gains by Israel of the 1967 and 1973 wars. This was summarized with the slogan "Greater Israel from the Nile's to the Euphrates" and from this point of view it was assumed that Israel threatened Turkey and had territorial claims on Turkey. This theme was also very well established in the mind of Erbakan. In 1996 while he was prime minister he attended a briefing of top level politicians and military staff. During this meeting he explained his point of view of Israel in the following terms: “There are two blue lines on the top and bottom of the star in the Israeli flag. These lines are symbols. The top line represent the Euphrates, the bottom line the Nile. According to Jewish belief these borders are the natural borders of the state of Israel".7
Turkey's joining the Common Market was one of the hot subjects of the decade of the 1970s. From the NOP point of view, the ultimate aim of Zionism being the domination of Turkey, it was Zionism which was obliging Turkey to enter the Common Market. This thinking was best expressed by Erbakan in the parliamentary discussion of 15th May 1970 on the subject of Turkey's joining the Common Market, during which he said: "In 12 years 3000 big Common Market companies have been bought by the Zionist capitalists in the USA and in 1969 the net transfer of profits of these 3000 firms to USA was 13 billion dollars. In today's Israeli Parliament there is a statue of Theodor Herzl. This Zionist who lived 100 years ago in Vienna and started founding the Israel project has drawn the map of the territories that Israel has to conquer and in this map a great part of Turkey's territories have been shown as part of Israel. The Israel project is in this fact. In the Old Testament it is said that the land of the Assyrians which goes until Kayseri belongs to Israel. The West if necessary can close its eyes to this project of Israel. The Common Market has other aims than economic ones. The clause which obliges the member countries to permit foreigners to buy lands in their countries can make it possible for Zionists to buy Turkey at very cheap price. This situation can lead Turkey to become a part of Israel".8
The political language that the NSP, which was established after NOP was closed down, had the same antisemitic and anti-Zionist colour. However the year 1972 when NSP started its political life and the following ones were years of political chaos in Turkey with right and left factions fighting each other. Because of this situation this time the NSP accused "international Zionism" and "international Jewry" as the main culprit of anarchy and right and left polarization in Turkey. For the NSP the aim of Zionism was to divide Turkey into right and left, capitalism and communism, and make people fight each other in order to dominate Turkey.
In August 1980 after Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital, two editorials that Erbakan wrote at the occasion of the feast of Ramadan were entitled "Jerusalem and Zionism" and "Anarchy and Zionism".9 In the "Jerusalem and Zionism" article Erbakan repeated the well known allegations of Israel/Zionism expansionist aims encompassing Turkey as well. In his second article entitled "Anarchy and Zionism" Erbakan wrote again about Zionism. He described Zionism in the following terms: "Those who know Zionism compare it to an octopus. This octopus has numberless arms. Communism is one arm, capitalism another arm, freemasonry a side branch, racism another arm. Those who become part of these currents without knowing, are serving Zionism, are fighting for Zionism whatever they might say themselves" and presented Zionism as the sole source of Turkey's anarchy and chaos.
Three weeks after these articles were published on 6th September 1980 NSP organised the famous "Jerusalem meeting" in Konya where Erbakan led the demonstrating crowd in which children bearing the banner "Death to the Jew" marched.10 Six days after this meeting the military coup of 12th September 1980 happened.
The NSP which was closed down together with the other parties after the 12th September 1980 military coup reappeared on the political scene in 1983 this time as the Welfare Party (WP) and continued to use the same jargon and rhetoric of its predecessors.
The "international Zionism" obsession that WP took over as an intellectual heritage from its predecessors was also included in the famous "Fair Economic system" programme of the WP. In the introduction of this programme the liberal economic system prevailing in Turkey was named the “slave system”. The causes of the "slave system" which prevailed were described as follows:
"The "slave system" which currently prevails in Turkey did not happen by itself. This is the result of "modern colonialism" that the powers of "imperalism" and "Zionism" are applying with plans and programmes. We have to know that the world is not empty. Zionism which has its center in Wall Street of New York is an ideological power. They believe that they are God's chosen people and that other people are created to become their slaves. They believe that they will dominate the world and the more they exploit other people the more worship pleasure they take. Zionists have world imperalism under their control. They exploit all humanity with the capitalist system based on interest. They continue their political dominance on the world through imperalist states. In Turkey imperalism and Zionism support the "imitation Parties" and these parties try by all means to rule the country."11
In a WP brochure printed in the 1990's entitled "Turkey's real state - reasons - diagnostic" WP spoke again of the theme "international Zionism is world domination" and stated that Turkey's economic and social system works for Israel and Zionism, which in their turns work for world domination, and described banking activities in Turkey as a system which works for Israel in the following terms: "the amount of principal and interest that Turkey has paid in 1988 to Zionist banks is 8.5 billion dollars. This means sending one truck of ten tons of gold to the Zionist banks of the USA every week. These payments which are made up from the money that people in Turkey spend when buying anything from the bakery and the market are used by the Zionist banks in the USA for buying military hardware for Israel."12
As a result of this world domination obsession, Islamists in Turkey considered the Jews as their worst adversaries. For Erbakan and its followers the Jew became an abstract figure which represented the powerful master behind all the other political parties in Turkey, in other words the adversary to his “Milli Görüº” (National View) doctrine. Consequently in 1996 during local elections Erbakan made speeches where he said: “vote for Welfare Party if you do not want the Jews to profit from the election results”.13
One cannot deny the fact that some of the themes where the Jew was dominant in this rhetoric, bears a strong resemblance to those encountered in other Middle East countries, such as Libya, Iran, or Syria. For example the Erbakan remarks on the significance of the blue lines of the Israeli flag have been used before by Yasser Arafat and Muammar Kaddafi.14 The “Greater Israel” theme was also used in other middle eastern countries.15 This shows that the antisemitic rhetoric used in the political language of Erbakan and the various Islamist parties he presided, is also a universal language shared by other Islamic leaders known for their anti Israel position.
The following factors can help to understand the reasons of this antisemitic and antiZionist attitude that is well established in the political and popular Islam in Turkey:
- The reason for the hostile attitude of the Islamist publications was the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East. The state of Israel was considered as "a dagger thrust in the Middle East" and it was never accepted by the Islamists in Turkey. The Islamists behaved within the frame of mind of a Muslim brotherhood and as such considered the wars between Israel and his neighbours as a war between Muslims and Jews. For the Turkish Islamists point of view the state of Israel was an entity not conforming to the natural way of things, an anomaly, the colony of the USA, the hand of imperalism.
- There are other reasons specific to Turkey why Israel and the "Jew" is placed in this hostile position:
The foremost reason is the belief that Sultan Abdülhamit's dethronement by the Committee of Union and Progress was a Zionist-freemason-sabbatean conspiracy. Islamists believed that the Sultan was dismissed because he did not accept Theodor Herzl's request of a land for a Jewish state in Palestine. This belief found its foundations in the fact that the Commitee of Union and Progress secret meetings were held in the freemason lodges in Salonica where the majority of the population were Jews and Deunme16 and in the person of Emmanuel Carasso the Ottoman parliamentarian, who was a Jew and a member of the delegation who announced to the Sultan his abdication. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was considered as the sucessful result of the Zionist dream which started in 1897 in Basel at the cost of the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
With antisemitic classics such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been published in Turkey in form of books and articles 87 times during the years 1934-1997,17 and with the writings of popular antisemitic writers which reached bestseller positions, the most well known one being Cevat Rýfat Atýlhan, the widespread "villain" image of the Jew took the form of "an octopus with seven arms". Zionism was considered as an expansionist, imperalist ideology with the ultimate aim of a "single world state" which meant "world domination". Süleyman Arif Emre, a close associate of Erbakan, a top officer and founder of the various Islamist parties wrote in his memoirs that Zionism as an expansionist ideology was already proven by the The Protocols.18 These memoirs show without any doubt how much the "villain" image of the Jew is widespread and established in the leading Islamist minds.
The theme of the "Jew" became an inseparable part of the Islamist rhetoric in political and populist circles. Each of the words Zionism, Jew and Israel became a synonym of the other one, and at the end the image of the "Jew" gained the appearance of an "enemy of Islam" and the "cause of all mischief".
Within this negative image of the “Jew” from the Islamist point of view the only positive aspect of Israel was that Israel is a religious state and not a secular one in the way Turkey understands secularism. However in order that this positive image of Israel to become apparent to the Islamists it was necessary for the WP to experience governing Turkey and be forced to resign from the coalition government. The Welfare Party-True Path Party coalition started on 28th June 1996 and ended on 29th June 1997. During this one year period both the Turkish Armed Forces and media took a very harsh approach against the WP and its electoral base, interfering in the dressing code of men and women, mainly in response to the attempts of the WP to interfere in the laic status of the Turkish state, attempts which manifested themselves mainly in form of symbolic gestures. This situation led the Islamists for the first time to discover that Israel had a positive side, which was its being a state where religion is not put under pressure, and nobody interferes in the dressing and worship of the Jewish people where religion rules everyday life.
However this “positive” argument that the Islamist intellectuals used for Israel and Jewry could not neutralize the negative image of Zionism/Jewry and Israel, which was well established over the years.
The place of the Jew of Turkey in the Islamic rhetoric, be it political or popular, has the following characteristics:
- In the Islamist rhetoric the Jew of Turkey has been considered like the other minorities as the heritage of the Ottoman Empire and the live proof of the tolerance shown by the Ottomans to the non muslims. The Islamic movement in Turkey which presented itself as the continuation of the Ottomans used the image of non muslims living in the empire in order to prove that the prejudicial equation "Islam = terror" that the West has of Islam is not true and that the Islamic movement in Turkey embraces non muslims as well, in the good tradition of its ancestors, the Ottomans.
- In the rhetoric of political Islam the Jew of Turkey has a peculiar place. The Jew of Turkey is considered as a Jew who does not have any attachement to Israel and Zionism, in a way a Turkified Jew. Therefore all the antisemitic allegations against Jews and Zionism in a way are aimed to another “kind” of Jew, not the Jew of Turkey.
- The Islamists assume that the Jews of Turkey can not have any political attitude and therefore cannot be defenders of secularism and Atatürk and cannot take any stand against Islam. During the coalition time of WP and also afterwards, Islamist intellectuals wrote that the dominant factor in Turkey is Islam and asked the Jews of Turkey not to take sides with the secularists in the secularist-Islamist clash. The best example of such requests have been seen in the articles of Islamist intellectual Mehmed ªevket Eygi published in Milli Gazete. In an article written after the WP-True Path Party coalition resigned, Eygi wrote the following: "Turkey has reached a turning point. In the years of 2000 it will be a much different Turkey. The Jews can suffer great losses because of their mistakes. Their main policy must be to have good relations with the Muslim majority. The Jews of Turkey must be foremost Turks. They can not behave like Israelis but like Turks. If they do not do like this they will play the chess game badly and finally lose it … The Jews of Turkey are entitled to support the moderate Muslims in this country. Their opposing the Islamic movement will lead them in the future to losses and disasters..."19
- The WP and Erbakan who in the past took an adamantly opposing attitude to Israel by going so far as to say "To be with Israel in the same community as two allied states working for common interests is first against our being Muslims, our humanity. To be seen with Israel side by side anywhere and under any circumstances is a humiliation for us"20 discovered realpolitik and the power of the Jewish lobby in the USA when it became a governing coalition partner. During his prime ministry, Erbakan signed military and civil agreements with Israel and did not fail to try to make use of the combined power of the lobbies of the Turkish and American Jewish communities in the USA. During his visit to USA in January 1997 state minister Fehim Adak, a member of WP met with the officers of the well known lobbying organisation, the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), and for credit syndication talk also with financial institutions with Jewish names such as Solomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers, which until then WP had accused of serving world Zionism.21 When questioned Fehim Adak replied by saying that "we can do business with Jews", meaning the banking houses, and added: "We aim to live in good relations with everybody. It is business, and if it suits you, you do. We consider our interests first and negotiate with everybody. Including the financing houses Solomon and Lehman Brothers."22 State minister Abdullah Gül, also a member of WP, met as well with officers of American Jewish organisations. However Erbakan, who for years cultivated his electoral base with fertile antisemitic rhetoric, took pains not to reflect too much to the public opinion these contacts, or as in the case of his meeting with Israel foreign minister David Levy, to reflect a picture of a distant and cold meeting.
The importance for Turkey of the pro-Turkish attitude of the Jewish lobby in the USA is a well known reality. It is also well known that the elites and businessmen of the Jewish community of Turkey made this happen. If the Islamists will have another chance to govern Turkey we can safely assume that they will make use of the lobbying force of the Jewish community of Turkey. Thus the powerful Jewish elites of Turkey will continue to play the “Court Jew” role that they are presently playing.
In summary, for the Islamists the Jew of Turkey is a Turkified Jew, a living proof of the tolerance of the muslims to non muslims, and at the service of the Turkish state in international platforms. Since he is a Turk of the Mosaic faith he is considered as not belonging anymore to the dark evil which is the “international Zionist brotherhood”. Consequently Islamists believe that the accusations directed against international Zionism and international Jewry are not aimed at the Jews of Turkey.
When the Welfare Party was banned by the constitutional court in February 1998, all Welfare Party parliamentarians joined the newly established Virtue Party. Rýza Ulucak, ex Welfare Party deputy chairman, became the unofficial chairman of the Virtue Party.
Rýza Ulucak, in the past shared the same views of the Islamists concerning Israel and Zionism. For example in 1991 in an interview with an American journalist he said: “Israel is always trying to expand her borders. Her real goal is a country stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates. … There is no reason for the existence of the State of Israel in this region. It is a parasitic state dispossessed the legal owners of the land. It causes trouble for all its neighbors, and we would all be better off if it were elsewhere. Israel should be transferred to South America. You do not have to worry. We will not send it to North America.”23 However in 1998, as an unofficial chairman of Virtue Party he changed his views and said: “There is a misunderstanding in how we perceive Israel. We are presented like we are antisemites. We cannot accept this. We are against some of the unfair policies of Israel, but we want to develop our relations with Israel and enter in close relations with the prominent lobbying organisations of USA”.24 After the first general assembly of Virtue Party, Recai Kutan was elected chairman and as chairman he again repeated his new views: “it is out of question that we are antisemites. We are against Israel's expansionism and unjust treatment of her neighbours. We are against Zionism, not Israel”. Virtue Party parliamentarians also said, “If we will be a different party than Welfare Party, we are obliged to develop our relations with Israel.”25
With this new approach it can be assumed that from now on the Virtue Party will cease to use a rhetoric containing anti-Zionist and antisemitic allegations. As a result of it we can suppose that the image of the Jew will move, from that of the "villain" to one where it will have no special attributes, good or bad. However one has to be cautious and not too optimistic.
In Turkey political Islam was born in an environment where the creators of popular antisemitic culture found room to move comfortably in right wing circles. The Islamist politicians became also part of the creators of this culture with their rhetoric. In this rhetoric eloquence was a prime feature. For populist Islamist politicians eloquence meant the embellishment of their speeches by including the negative image of the Jew.
To expect that memories, feelings and convictions nourished and poisoned in such an atmosphere for decades, would disappear from one day to the other would be quite optimistic. It will not be a surprise if in the future one will find again antisemitic allegations in the Islamist media, or in the rhetoric of the politicians.
A good example of such a case is an editorial which appeared on 23rd March 1998, only 16 days after Virtue Party's unofficial chairman Rýza Ulucak's first statement complaining about the allegations of antisemitism against the Welfare Party. This editorial insinuated that the current repressing movement of the secularists against Islamists is a hidden plan of Zionism. It was published in Milli Gazete, the semi official newspaper of the party: "They (meaning the Jews RNB) managed to make the whole world believe in the “holocaust” myth. They have not been content to seize the Middle East with the help of this myth. The Zionists also managed to extort money from all European countries and USA. They managed to do this with the 6 million victims lie. The Zionists took this 6 million figure as their share from the 50 million Nazi victims. They became the only and real owner of the New World Order through their terrible media empire. They are using this media empire for taking the world in their palms. Their economic network is organized in such a way that it can shake the whole world. Israel is always dreaming of its greatest ideal of the promised land and considers the Euphrates as its natural border. Is it possible to overcome Turkey's crisis by overlooking Zionist world policy? Why don't we understand that the “reactionary” called the enemy, to which we gave a name but are never able to identify it, has no native character?”26
After reading this excerpt the first reaction might be that the new attitude of Virtue Party is “takiyye”, a word used to mean that they are hiding their real motives. However before reaching such a conclusion we should be careful to make a distinction between rhetoric and realpolitik. If the rhetoric is taken at face value and applied to daily life, future for Jews of Turkey under an Islamist government is very grim. However one has to be attentive and see that there is a very wide living space between rhetoric and realpolitik.
Today's public opinion, in and outside Turkey, is either very concerned about, or against Islamism in Turkey. Therefore the primary concern of Islamists is public relations. Public relations require a soft, tolerant and moderate image of Islam in Turkey. In this image Turkish non muslims in general, and Jews in particular, fit very well. Jews fit much better because of their connections with the powerful USA Jewish lobby. Therefore we can safely assume that in case Islamists will one day govern Turkey the dark and heavily antisemitism tainted rhetoric will not be put into action.
In December 1990 Erbakan felt obliged to comfort the Jews of Turkey. This was in reply to a passage of a book which general Kenan Evren, the head of the military staff who realized the 12th September 1980 coup, made reference in his memoirs who were published in serialized form in a newspaper in 1990. In this passage of the book it was claimed that prior to 12th September 1980 military coup the businessmen of the Jewish community of Turkey which were worried with the antisemitic rhetoric of Erbakan approached USA government circles. They asked them to hold immigration doors open to the Jews of Turkey in the eventual case where Erbakan would become prime minister.27 May be the following comforting reply of Erbakan to this claim best reflects the realpolitik approach of the Islamists to the Jews of Turkey: “According to our beliefs Jews, Christians, members of another faith or people not being member of any faith have the right to live, think, believe and own property. The Turkish state is obliged to firmly guarantee these rights. For this reason naturally the rights of the Jewish community are under our guarantee. Therefore neither the Jewish community nor another community has any reason to worry”.28
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Rifat N. BALI, « The image of the jew in the rhetoric of political islam in Turkey », Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien [En ligne], 28 | 1999, mis en ligne le , consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : http://cemoti.revues.org/590Haut de page
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