Turkey’s mercurial leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan took his diplomatic spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a new level on Wednesday when he implicitly threatened the well-being of Turkey’s already dwindling Jewish community. “Do not provoke,” Erdogan said, before noting that he had not yet taken any action against Turkish Jews or their houses of worship. This is, of course, not the first Turkish government threat against its Jewish community. A decade ago, then-Foreign Minister Ali Babacan privately told Turkish Jewish leaders that if the U.S. Congress passed a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, Erdogan’s government would feel no obligation from preventing Islamist mobs from attacking Turkish synagogues.
It may not have happened yet, but it will, and soon. It is true that Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire before it, has been more hospitable to Jews than many European and Arab countries. Jews received refuge in Ottoman domains upon their 15th century expulsion from Spain, and they remained generally welcome for centuries after. One of the reasons successive Turkish governments have welcomed and protected the Jewish community has been that Jews in Palestine were one of the few Ottoman groups which did not rise in rebellion against Istanbul. Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, and Serbs, on the other hand, all did. As for the Kurds, they of course rose up repeatedly after Turkish independence, and still do.
But early in his reign, Erdogan discovered that anti-Semitic incitement was a powerful political tool. For that matter, the same was long true for his ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gulen, although as Gulen has been targeted by Erdogan, he has had a change of heart.
The Erdogan years have been scary for Turkish Jews. The Turkish leader and his top aides have regularly peddled in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Wikileaks? The whole episode was a Jewish plot to embarrass Turkey. The 2013 environmental protests at Gezi Park? Another Jewish plot. The Jews, you see, engaged in a telekinetic plot to disrupt Turkey and achieve what the “interest rate lobby” could not. He has publicly cited a ‘hadith,’ a religious anecdote, talking about the slaughter of Jews at the end of times. Hitler’s Mein Kampf shot to the best-seller list, apparently when Erdogan’s allies subsidized its print run, and Erdogan’s wife endorsed a movie financed by major donors to Erdogan’s own political party which suggested Jews started the Iraq war so that they could harvest the organs of dead Iraqis for profit. Erdogan supports Turkish internet trolls who engage in the basest Jew hatred. For all Erdogan’s pro-Palestinian rhetoric, it is not the Palestinian Authority whom he supports but rather Hamas, whose covenant continues to call for the annihilation of Jews.
Against this backdrop, Turkey’s centuries-old Jewish community has already begun to leave. “In 2016, the Jewish immigration from Turkey has doubled. In percentage terms, the largest increase of Aliyah registered during this period was the immigration from Turkey,’’ notes the Jewish agency. In an unfortunate irony, Turkish Jews are now fleeing to Spain and Portugal for freedom and safety.
Every Jew who remains in Turkey, or even visits Turkey as a tourist, now puts their life and freedom in their hands. As Turkey’s economy falters and with so many Turks already in prison, Erdogan is looking for scapegoats. Turkish synagogues may be protected in theory by Turkish police and private security, but European intelligence already believes Erdogan has greenlit Islamic State terrorist attacks in other instances.
The best option for Turkish Jews is to cease denial, overcome inertia, and to leave now, and quickly.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.