Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a sly swing at the Jewish faith late last week during a speech at an award ceremony organized by the country’s Roma community in Bursa.
The barb came within what started out as a positive comment — as Erdogan’s barbs often do.
In accepting the “Great Roman” award on Feb. 6, Erdogan mentioned that he grew up in Kasimpasa, a neighborhood in Istanbul that was home to many Roma as well. “I know the Roma culture,” he said, and then began condemning racism, Islamophobia and discrimination, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
“I am addressing to those who talk about women’s rights. Why don’t you raise your voice against the Jews who thank God in their prayers that they were not created as women? Was there any other understanding, a logic as demeaning for women as this one?”
The snide remark is a deliberate misinterpretation of one of the morning blessings recited by men — and women (the women’s version states praise to God that they were created as He desired) in recognition of their different roles and responsibilities in Jewish life.
In October 2014, a Haaretz reporter commented in an article that “Turkey, once a safe haven for Jews, now outranks Iran in harboring anti-Semitic sentiment.” An unnamed security coordinator told the reporter that Jews living in Istanbul “try to keep a low profile.”
Haaretz is not a right-wing newspaper. It is a liberal, left-wing news outlet that goes out of its way to “see the other side,” sometimes to the exclusion of noticing that of its country of origin. But one of the Turkish Jews with whom the reporter spoke said, “For the Jewish people there is no life in Istanbul.” Nevertheless, she added that she feels “very Turkish” and still wants “to live here all my life if it’s possible.”
If it’s possible. Once no Jew would have questioned that. Many of the Jews who live now in Turkey are the descendants of those who came to the Ottoman Empire as refugees from Spain in 1492. Others married in after having come to the country as tourists, some from Israel. Most have now fled in fear for their lives.
It was the anti-Jewish riots in the 1930s in Turkey that prodded the first Jews to flee. Political pressures that followed frightened the Jews that remained, and slowly the flood became a steady bleed. As Turkey drew closer to Iran and a more radical Islamic attitude over the past decade, the Jews once more were threatened by those around them. The Sephardic Jewish Center in Istanbul today is secured by multiple locks and hidden other systems; one has to know where to find it and how to access it just to be able to enter its doors.
The threats were aided and abetted by then-Prime Minister, and today President Recep Tayyid Erdogan, whose anti-Semitic bordered on vitriolic during the times Israel was forced to defend herself against Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorists, who are members of the Muslim Brotherhood which originated in Egypt.
The group is beloved by Erdogan, himself a man truly loved by his country and his people, who relate to him as someone from “the neighborhood.” He relates to crowds as one of the people, with a speaking style in Turkish that has a slight edge; it retains that roughness seen among those who didn’t go to Harvard.
It is what has kept him in power for so long.
That same style has also enabled Erdogan to build ties with nearly every terror group in the region and has firmed the bond between Turkey and Iran. It may dim the competition between the two for establishing a new Empire over the fragments that once were powerful Arab nations in the region.