Five centuries ago after Sultan Bayezid II welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal to Istanbul, the Jewish community in Turkey is slowly dwindling. Over the centuries many Jews have risen to prominence as ministers, traders and buccaneers. In 1948 Turkey was home to 80,000 Jews. Today only 17,300 are left. Faced with rising anti-Semitism many young Turkish Jews leave for Israel, Europe and North America.



Wishful Thinking Turkish Style  

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan caricatureRecent terrorist attacks in Turkey have been widely reported in the media as have been the daily stabbing attacks in Israel. Despite the strained relationships two countries have experienced over the last couple of years one would think that under the extreme circumstances, such as violent death of innocent civilians, they can be sympathetic to each other's plight. Apparently it's not the case as far as some Turkish officials are concerned.

On March 19th, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a busy tourist area in central Istanbul, killing four people and wounding dozens in the process. Three out of four dead tourists as well as eleven of 36 people wounded were Israeli citizens. One Israeli woman remained in critical condition in the Istanbul hospital.

Three dead Israelis were identified as Jonathan Shor, 40, Simha Damari, 60 and Avraham Goldman, 69. Next day Israeli military aircraft collected their bodies and some of the wounded and brought them back to Israel. The coffins, draped in the star of David flags, were greeted by an Israeli military personal at Ben-Gurion airport as if the murdered Israelis were killed in combat.

The Turkish interior minister identified the bomber for Saturday's bombing as Mehmet Ozturk, a resident of the southern Turkish border town of Gaziantep and an Islamic State militant. It would be impossible to speculate if the bomber specifically targeted Israelis as there were also other nationals who fell victims of this attack. Who knows what the terrorist is thinking before he meets his maker.

What we do know is right after the Istanbul bombing an official from President Erfogan's Justice and Development Party has tweeted the following: "I wish the wounded Israeli tourists were dead". The name of the young woman who send this tweet is Irem Aktas. The ugly tweet was removed pretty quickly and Turkish social media sources reported that Aktas was removed from her position.

 Somehow the removal of Ms. Aktas does not clear the real bad taste left by her words. It's hard to believe that she is the only one in President Ertogan's Islamist party who feels this way as her boss is well known around the world  for being an Israel hater. Looks like Aktas just got carried away publicly expressing her feelings.

Turkish officials immediately scrambled trying to reduce the backlash from embarrassing incident as Israelis demanded an apology. It is bad enough that terrorist attacks will keep away the tourists who are the bread and butter of Turkish economy. The last thing they need is for media to spread a word that a government official is wishing death to the visitors, even if they are Israelis. It is not the publicity Turkish goverment needs at this time.

The day after the attack, President Erdogan has sent a condolence letter to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. In his letter Erdogan said the following: "With yesterday's heinous attack, it has again been seen most clearly that it is an absolute necessity for the international community to conduct a joint, united and determined fight against the terrorism, which targets the whole of humanity and fundamental human values and constitutes a crime against humanity".

Nice words from the man who made a career out of antisemitic propaganda that could rival the Iranian Ayatollahs. Israeli president accepted the condolences and even called Erdogan back to thank him. Turkey is a regional power and once was a very important trading partner for Israel. It is in Israel's interest to play along and try to patch up the relationship that during the last couple of years reached an all time low.

It was not always this way. Only fifteen years ago Turkey was a rare bright spot on the map of the troubled Middle East region. They were a gold standard of how democracy and Islam can coexist. So much so that Turkey was being considered for a full membership in the European Union. Moreover, Turkey and Israel had a great economic and military relationship. For a longest time Turkey was one of the favorite destinations for Israeli tourists.

All of that has changed when Ertogan became a prime minister in 2003. Many Turks had major reservations about him and the Islamist party he represented. Ertogan promised that his personal religious views will not influence how he is going to govern the country. Unfortunately just like most other Islamist leaders who came to power through democratic elections he lied.

In 2009, during the debate at the World Economic Forum on Davis, Turkish prime minister famously walked out on Simon Perez, after Israeli president defended Israel's right to defend itself against the Hamas rockets and suggested that Erdogan would do the same it his country was attacked.

After the incident in Davos, Erdogan became a hero in the Arab world and was hailed as a beacon of hope for the oppressed Muslims. Huge crowds greeted him on his trips around the region and he in turn pleased them by ripping into Israel every chance he got. In no time he became the most admired leader in the Muslim world. The booming Turkish economy did not hurt his popularity and strengthened Erdogan's grip on power. Many even compared him to Salladin, one of the most admired figures in the history of Islam.

In May of 2010, a flotilla sponsored by Turkish Islamist organizations tried to break through the Israeli blockade to Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. The ensued confrontation with Israeli military caused casualties among Turkish citizens traveling with the flotilla. The flotilla incident was a final nail in coffin named Israeli-Turkish relationship.

There is no doubt that Erdogan knew full well how this adventure can end up, but signed up on it anyway. Turkish Islamist government did not feel comfortable with a cozy relationship with a Jewish state. The flotilla incident gave them a reason to roll that relationship back and unleash the most virulent antisemitic campaign directed not only towards Israel but at the entire Jewish ethnic group.

In 2013 Erdogan made a Simon Wiesenthal's list top ten anti-Semites placing second only after Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khameini. During the same year his government blamed the instability of the financial markets on the Jews accusing them of being jealous of Turkey's growing economy.

Erdogan's antisemitic views were not a recent development. He has harbored ill feelings towards Jews since he was a young man. When he was growing up one of his idols was a prominent Turkish poet Necip Fazil Kısakürek who was also well known for being a rabid anti-Semite. He blamed the Jews for the decline of the Ottoman Empire and held them responsible for the emergence of capitalism and communism. One of his biggest accomplishments was the Turkish translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In March of 2015, a Turkish news channel loyal to Erdogan aired a two hour documentary titled The Mastermind. It was advertised as a news story exposing the great international conspiracy targeting Erdogan’s “New Turkey". The central figure in the film of course was a Jew. The main premise in the documentary fell in line with a Erdogan's theory that Turkey fell victim to this so called Mastermind who had a power to rule the world, wage wars and organize revolutions and coups.

Couple of prominent Islamist newspapers Yeni Akit and Millî Gazette, known to express Erdogan's views, openly disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda. Many Turkish opposition leaders admit that under Erdogan's rule anti-Semitism reached an all time high. Erdogan friendly media and political activists joyfully engage in anti-Israeli propaganda often providing a caricature image of bloodthirsty Zionist entity fisting on innocent Palestinians.

This is what he said during the 2014 Israel-Hamas War: "They kill women so they will not give birth to Palestinians; they kill babies so they won't grow up; they kill men so they can't defend their country". Erdogan has never made it a secret that he was a big supporter of Hamas an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

The entire flotilla fiasco emanated from his desire to break through the blockade in Gaza and elevate the Hamas status as the true representatives of the Palestinian people. Erdogan was ecstatic when a Muslim Brothers candidate, Mohammed Morse, his ideological twin, won the Egyptian elections in 2013. He was equally incensed when as a result of the army coup, the democratically elected president Morse was arrested and general Sisi took over.

Erdogan eventually found a culprit responsible for Morse's demise. It was Israel of course, his favorite villain. Erdogan never mentioned that Morse, who initially came to power via democratic elections, was planning on changing the Egyptian Constitution in the way that would have granted him unlimited powers to legislate without judicial oversight or review of his acts. Egyptian army generals felt that is was a direct threat to their status and took action. On July 3rd of 2013 Morse presidency came to the end and general Simi assumed the power.

If anything, it was Erdogan, who tipped the Egyptian generals off when he provided a blueprint on how to limit the power of the military. In 2012, under the false pretense of a planned coup, Erdogan arrested over 300 top army generals, academics and journalists. Many of the once all powerful Turkish generals who were the guarantors of Turkish secularism were stripped of their titles and jailed. Erdogan was now free to govern Turkey, according to his Islamic values.

On March 2015 all suspects were acquitted after the case’s prosecutor argued that digital evidence provided by the government was faked. By that time Erdogan was already pushing for a new constitution, which would give the president a lot more power. He won the presidential elections, build a huge presidential palace and became a de facto ruler of the Turkish Republic.

In June of 2015 Turkey held a parliamentary election. Erdogan's AKP party won the majority, but was 13 seats short required to call a referendum for constitutional change that would provide the president with much greater power. The unfortunate spoiler was a pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP). They gained enough votes to secure a place in the Turkish parliament for the first time. It was a historic event that raised hopes for peace and political empowerment for the country's long oppressed Kurdish minority.

Erdogan is not the type of leader that would allow anybody to interfere with his blind ambition for a control of the Turkish political landscape. Right after the elections, he practically sabotaged a two year ceasefire with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) when instead offering an olive branch to the Kurdish minority, he swore to fight the insurgents until the very last one is liquidated.

Soon after, the Turkish jets were pounding the PKK positions while three soldiers and dozen of insurgents were killed in separate attacks in a neighbouring province. It was not clear who violated the truce as each side blamed the other. But for Erdogan it was worth a gamble, as Kurdish insurgency is very unpopular with the Turkish people and would inevitably galvanize the country around the president.

 Turkish forces laid siege to predominantly Kurdish enclaves in southeastern Anatolia. The ancient Kurdish cities of Diyarbakir and Cizre got the worst of it as large numbers of civilians found themselves trapped underground after government shelling. They were denied a minimal assistance as ambulances were turned away, and family members detained, when they tried to reach the wounded. Some died of blood loss, some died of thirst, and many were burned alive when the government forces launched attacks on the buildings where they were trapped.

President Erdogan prides himself to be a champion for Palestinian cause while drowning in blood the Kurdish minority in his own country. It does not excuse the PKK for suicide bombings in the Turkish cities. It's a deplorable tactic that should be considered a war crime. Kurds have proved themselves to be great fighters, both in Iraq and Syria. They are an invaluable partner in the war against the Islamic State which initially Erdogan supported.

PKK is not advancing their cause by slaughtering hundreds of innocent Turkish civilians. All they need to do is to look at Hamas, Erdogan's best friends, and see how far those tactics have taken them. If anything they are helping Erdogan in his quest to achieve greater presidential powers by changing the constitution via proposed referendum.

After the PKK suicide bombing in Ankara that killed dozens and insured hundred, people, Erdogan proposed that definition of terrorism should be changed to include their "supporters" - such as MPs, civil activists and journalists. The translation is that he wants to whip up nationalistic hysteria, strip Kurdish MP's off their parliamentary seats and get enough votes to change the Constitution.

Erdogan is willing to go to any length in order to silence any criticism or descent. When three academics publicly called to end military operations against the Kurds in south-east Turkey they were arrested on the charges of terrorist propaganda. Erdogan swore to make them pay for their "treachery".

Erdogan also went after the press saying the media should not have unlimited freedom and ordered them to limit the coverage of terrorist attacks and military actions in Kurdish areas. Turkey is listed among the worst jailers of journalists worldwide. One can get arrested just for saying something unflattering about the president. Thankfully he can not limit the media coverage of non Turkish press.

During the 2015 parliamentary elections, many in the western media criticized Erdogan for limiting the freedom of speech in Turkey. His response was to single out The New York Times as he accused them of being represented by Jewish capital and therefore hostile to Muslims. He just loves repeating how the western media are controlled by the Jews. In Ertogan's mind that automatically absolves him of any wrong doing and is a self explanatory fact that hardly requires any explanation.

But the grand view that Turkish president has of himself also got him in a lot of trouble. He called Egypt's president Sisi an "illegitimate tyrant". His relationship with Vladimir Putin, after shooting down a Russian jet, is well documented. His once good friend Asad is now his sworn enemy. Islamic State routinly sends suicide bombers to Turkish cities. The emergence of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and Syria is a direct threat to Turkish national interests. The list is just to long to mention all Turkey's enemies.

The deteriorated relationships with major trading partners, severe drop in tourism and Syrian refugee crisis have dramatically impacted the once prosperous Turkish economy. Erdogan keeps blaming the enemies of the state for the tough times fallen on his country. It's not likely that one day he will look in the mirror and find a real culprit for most of his problems. He also needs to fight the deep nostalgic feelings for the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. It's not coming back and sooner he accepts that fsct the better of his country is going to be.

The three Israelis killed by Islamic State bomber as well as other victims were laid to rest. The world moved on to cover other terrorist attacks as a global jihad continues its deadly campaign of death. Fortunately the Turkish official who wished death on wounded Israelis did not get her wish fulfilled. Erdogan is busy playing a victim even though the expansion of the Islamic State into Syria was to great extend his doing. Another notable victim is a Turkish democracy that will not be revived any time soon or as long as Erdogan is in charge.