‘Jews Not Allowed’: Sign Posted This Week at Istanbul Follows Lead Long Set by Turkey’s President

Initially reported to have asked Hamas leaders to leave the country after October 7, Erdogan denied he had any such intentions. Instead, he doubled-down on his support for the terrorist group.

AP/Ali Unal
President Erdogan and his wife, Emine, at party headquarters, Ankara, Turkey, May 15, 2023. AP/Ali Unal

As President Erdogan verbally attacks Israel and lauds Hamas, Turkey is increasingly becoming a cesspool of antisemitism as it emerges as one of the region’s strongest allies of terrorists. 

“Jews not allowed”: So reads a sign posted this week in English and Turkish on a bookstore near Istanbul’s grand bazaar. People in the tens of thousands are marching almost daily in the streets of the country’s cities, carrying Palestinian and terrorist banners, and cursing Israel and Jews.

Israeli tourists, who recently have been returning to Turkey, long a favorite destination, are being advised by their government to immediately leave and refrain from traveling there. Nonessential diplomats and their family members were pulled out after the Israeli consulate at Istanbul was pelted with stones and firecrackers amid street protests. 

Turkey’s emotion-laden charge is being led by the long-time Turkish strongman, Mr. Erdogan, who leads the islamist Justice and Development Party, AKP. Initially reported to have asked Hamas leaders to leave the country, the president denied he had any such intentions. Instead, he doubled-down on his support for the terrorist group. 

According to a report on the website al-Monitor, Hamas’s chief, Ismail Haniyheh, watched the October 7 massacre in southern Israel from the organization’s Istanbul office. He was seen in a video alongside other Hamas officials, gloating over the blood-soaked “Operation al Aqsa Flood.” Mr. Haniyeh has long divided his time between Doha, Qatar, and Istanbul, while his deputy, Saleh al-Arouri, has homes at Istanbul and Beirut, Lebanon. 

Mr. Erdogan asserted to Ankara lawmakers Wednesday that Hamas “is not a terrorist organization, it is a liberation group, mujahideen waging a battle to protect its lands and people. The perpetrators of the massacre and the destruction taking place in Gaza are those providing unlimited support for Israel,” which “amount to murder and mental illness.”

Before the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, Mr. Erdogan seemed to be on a path toward repairing Israeli relations that have often been frayed during his 20-year rule. Hoping to seal a lucrative deal to run a gas line through Turkey between Israel’s offshore drilling facilities and Europe, Mr. Erdogan met with President Herzog at Ankara. Last month at the United Nations he also warmly shook hands with Prime Minister Netanyhu. 

A planned visit to Israel is now canceled, Mr. Erdogan announced Wednesday.  “I shook the hand of this man named Netanyahu one time in my life,” Mr. Erdogan said. “If he had continued with good intentions, our relations might have been different, but now, unfortunately, that will not happen either, because they took advantage of our good intentions.” 

Since Mr. Erdogan was first elected prime minister in 2003, and later as president, Turkey’s traditional close relations with Israel have been frayed. That turn ended ties that dated back to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who believed strongly in forging close relations with the region’s non-Arabs — Iran, the Kurds, and Turkey. 

“I want to have good relations with Israel,” Mr. Erdogan told the Sun early in his premiership, as he met Jewish organizations at New York. Yet, the honeymoon was short lived. In 2009, while attending a conference at Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Erdogan stunned his audience by telling his Israeli counterpart at the time, Shimon Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.” He then stormed off the stage.  

A year later, a group of Turkish Islamists dispatched what it called a “freedom flotilla” to Gaza, entering Israel’s territorial waters despite warnings to turn back. Israeli commandos boarded the ship and, following a fight, killed 10 of its passengers. Mr. Erdogan, who has backed the provocative flotilla, severed ties with Israel — only to renew them several years later.   

Short periods of improved  Ankara-Jerusalem relations end quickly because Mr. Erdogan “doesn’t like Israel, and he doesn’t like Jews. He just can’t help himself,” a Turkey watcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Cinan Ciddi, tells the Sun.

Will public attitudes in Turkey change if a more liberal leader arises to replace the Islamist president? It now seems hard to imagine, Mr. Ciddi says, because “for so long Erdogan has moved the needle against Israel and the Jews.”

The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa “Ataturk” Kemal, was a secularist who was averse to the Islamist sensibilities of the Ottoman Empire, which until World War I ruled vast territories, including modern-day Israel. Kemal also vehemently opposed antisemitism. 

Prior to Mr Erdogan’s ascent, Turkish leaders adhered to the Kamelist ethos. Security, commercial, and diplomatic relations with Israel were close. Mr. Erdogan, though, scoffs at Kamelist traditions. When landing at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, he has declined to utter its eponymous name. Finally in 2019, a new airport was built — without the country founder’s name. 

Hosting Hamas and stoking anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings may end up hampering Mr. Erdogan’s goals. At some point even Washington may finally turn its back on its NATO ally, Turkey. 


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