Monday, April 20, 2015

Turkey: Symbolic measures toward Jews neglect to address real anti-Semitism

Via Haartez:
The Synagogue opening provided a platform for Turkish and international analysts to ask if this is a turning point in Turkey’s treatment of its Jewish population. If so, this would be a breath of fresh air. Since the 2013 Gezi protests, there has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric among government officials and within the ranks of the ruling party, the AKP. During last summer’s Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Jews were even threatened by public figures. In addition, conspiracy theories of Jewish dominance are often whipped up in the government press.

With such a record of anti-Semitism, it seems ironic that the Turkish government would fork out $2.5 million to restore this 1909 Jewish house of prayer, which fell into decay following World War I and the major exodus following the 1934 pogroms. The pogroms of Thrace greatly affected the Jews, but were part of a general trend. As a result of Turkification policies, the 1942 Wealth Tax and the 1955 September pogroms, many of Turkey’s non-Muslims opted to leave the country in mass numbers.

Placed in this historical context, it should be no surprise that the Turkish government sponsored the restoration. Since coming to power in 2003, Turkey's all-powerful former prime minister and now president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has worked to erase the memory of Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which includes highlighting and correcting injustices carried out during the early years of the Turkish state.

In this sense, the act of restoring the memory of the “other” has less to do with what Erdogan thinks of Jews (or Armenians and Greeks, in the case of restored churches), but is part of a greater project. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the AKP’s interpretation of history is selective, and is often used as a tool to delegitimize the secular opposition party, the CHP, which was founded by Ataturk. Simply, to claim the CHP is responsible for every historical injustice is nothing more than a farce - in fact, it was a CHP MP, Aykan Erdemir, who submitted parliamentary questions concerning Turkey’s growing anti-Semitism, doing this symbolically on the Jewish New Year.

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