Erdogan sends Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews

Tayyip Erdogan (photo: Reuters)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended his Rosh Hashana greetings to his country’s Jews, the Jerusalem Post reports. His statement restates the myth that Turkey was a multicultural paradise over the centuries. This may have been true at certain times, but the brutal extermination of the Armenians, the expulsion of the Pontine Greeks, and entrenched discrimination against dhimmis belie a less-than-tolerant attitude towards non-Muslims.

“There have been a number of different beliefs and cultures living together for centuries in our country,” the Turkish prime minister said in his address. “Special days and holidays add special color to our community life.”

“Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year and I wish our Jewish citizens a healthy and fruitful new year,” he added.

Erdodgan did not mention Israel in his statement.

His message came as a war of wordswas developing between him and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over comments made about the Holocaust and the number of Palestinians killed during conflicts.
On Wednesday, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that comments made by Erdogan to CNNwere mistranslated by the network.

According to the original translation, Erdogan apparently said that Israel has killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

A Turkish transcript of the interview, provided by Turkish state news agency Anatolia, revealed that “Erdogan said hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed by Israelis,” Hurriyet reported.

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  • Shalom Bataween – and may you have an easy Fast! A quick comment on your quick comment – we both agree that the illegitimate Arab regimes cynically exploit the Palestinian crisis for their own ends and that left to their own devices they will never find a constructive solution. Hence, the importance of the Arab Spring movement and the potential for a guiding hand from a democratic and pluralistic Turkey to steer it away from Islamist extremism – sure to come about if real change is not realized quickly. Again, getting the Palestinian crisis solved is key to blocking the exits for the cynical Arab regimes and for the Islamic extremists. You rightly point out that Abbas has lost much credibility in the Palestinian street hence his mad dash to the UN to try and cover his backside. I do believe that he and more importantly Salim Fayyed are the only two parties able to negotiate a reasonable settlement at this juncture. Fayyed is a true technocrat, has embraced non-violence, and more importantly has created the foundation for a real Palestinian State with functioning institutions. Abbas and Fayyed are said to detest each other – which is a good sign. If the Israeli Government would put a moratorium on settlements and sit with Fayyed/Abbas I believe an agreement could be reached that, more importantly, could show the residents of Gaza that Hamas is a way back – not a way forward. Especially if the economic benefits that many Palestinians in the West Bank are now starting to enjoy start to flow to Gaza. Things cannot stay as they are and with a real, functional government in the West Bank that has foresworn violence and embarked on legitimate state building there is someone to talk with. It has to start somewhere and it surely won't start with Hamas….
    Netanyahu and Lieberman are end-gamers and are playing a very dangerous game – one that, unfortunately they cannot hope to win. The definition of madness is doing the same behaviors over and over while expecting a different result. Time to end the madness and start talking….

  • You raise many important issues which I would like to come back to when I have more time.
    Let's just deal with one: the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian issue is a distraction for the Arab regimes because of their lack of democracy, not the other way around. It is increasingly evident that the settlements are not the issue – Abbas talked of 63 years – not 44 years – of Israeli occupation in his UN speech. A resolution short of Israel's destruction will not satisfy all Arab parties. We know that Hamas is against any peace with Israel and even a Pal state. And even if Israel were to agree a deal with Abbas (who already lacks legitimacy, having postponed elections for the last 2 years), what guarantee is there than the next Palestinian regime will honour any deal Israel makes?

  • Part 2

    I do believe that militarily and technologically speaking, for Turkey to truly realize Erdogan's dream of a new Ottoman Empire there will have to be rapprochement between Israel and Turkey. Israel has too strong a tech sector that Turkey needs to help seed it's own tech industry and that militarily they need each other to maintain security in the region against Iran and Pakistan. But that will be secondary no doubt. His first priority is to cement his reputation with the Arabs and regain what was lost.

    Which leads us to Iraq and the Arabs.
    In my opinion the Arabs have never had the national identity, the unified history, the sophisticated culture, and the cosmopolitanism of either the Ottoman Empire or the Persian Empire. Is there classical Arab music? Classical Arab dance? Classical Arab poetry? Classical Arab art? No. The only classical "Arab" arts are from the Moors during the 14th & 15th centuries. Same for Arab science. Generally, as a culture of nomads they have taken the most fundamental and basic tenets of Islam with none of the refinement or absorbed influences that the other non-Arab empires embraced. Remember, the Arabs essentially sealed the book on modification back in the 15th century which saw the end of their "Empire" at the hands of the Christians.
    It was not until the British got involved with the Arabs that the idea of Pan-Arab nationalism became any kind of real political force and when run through the lens of Nazism/Fascism that it became the truly virulent anti-semitic force that it is now – propped up by artificial middle-eastern states such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. In my opinion there is little hope that the Arabs will get their act together without an external force providing some kind of modernizing framework to bring about fundamental change and that their society will stay stuck in the morass they've been in for the past 6 centuries. Hence the importance of Erdogan and the potential benefits of a re-establlished Pax Ottomanus.

    But, central to that is solving the Palestinian problem. Without Palestine as an issue Arab leaders have nothing to distract their populations from their corruption. There never has been a more critical time for the Israeli government to make a deal – they have a true negotiating partner in the West Bank in Salid Fayem who has created a viable state infrastructure that is moderate, secular, and functioning. Even the IDF has been impressed with their self policing. But Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman continue to block progress. Settlements are the key issue – you cannot negotiate with someone over how to split a pizza while the other person is eating the pie. The mosque burning over the weekend is the direct result of the climate they are creating. They are on the wrong side of history and something needs to be done quickly. Would Rabin behave the way Netanyahu is? Would Sharon even? No – they were practical leaders with vision who understood what needed doing and had the strength of character to do it. Even Barack and Olmert were willing to deal – though unfortunately then there was no one to deal with. Israel is in grave danger of losing it's soul and it's place in the world. Without a new government of vision and boldness the isolation will only grow and I fear the result will be a single state – which is destruction – not a solution which is two states for two peoples.

    p.s. to Sylvia – Under the Military in Turkey Jews had to have a silent Muslim partner they paid in order to operate their businesses. Like other Arab countries. Today that is no longer the case. They are also free to leave the country at will and return at will – that was not true under the army.

  • This post is in 2 Parts – sorry for the length

    Part 1

    Thank you everyone for a very interesting, civil, and lively conversation – and a joyful L'Shana Tova to all!

    I do want to emphasize that I do share your conviction that where we are a minority we need to be continuously vigilant and certainly cannot rely on the kindness of "strangers". But, I do believe that historically speaking there is a critical difference between Iran, Iraq and Turkey and their posture towards Jews – leaving the Israel/Palestine issue aside for the moment. This is largely based on ethnicity, cultural, and political sophistication. In the case of both Persia (Iran) and Turkey we are dealing with Empires of considerable age with a vibrant history, highly developed culture, and more importantly a distinctly defined ethnicity.
    Going back in history, Cyrus the Great was a well known champion of Jews and their contributions to his Empire – particularly in medicine, trade, and diplomacy. Similarly with the Turks. While there were periods of oppression in both cultures, these were nothing compared to the treatment of Jews at the hands of the Christians. What is also true is that both countries – even Iran – still have Jewish populations unlike other Muslim states.
    The situation in Iran is much more complicated due to the military alliance between Israel and the Government of the Shah. Iran played no part in any of the Arab/Israeli conflicts and the relationship with the Shah was reasonably friendly and mutually beneficial militarily. Unfortunately in an unfriendly world, one must make friends where one can – such as Israel's unfortunate alliance with the apartheid government of South Africa. So with the fall of the Shah and the dreaded SAVAK (secret police) that was allied with MOSSAD, the revolutionary passion and zeal from a terrorized population suddenly liberated changed the entire dynamic that previously existed. Even with all this though, Jews are protected in the Iranian constitution and a seat is reserved for a Jew in the Majlis. Iran hosts the largest Jewish population of any Muslim-majority country. After Israel, it is home to the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East. This is not to defend the current regime by any means – Ahmadinejad is a mad man as is Khatami. The current regime is barbaric and will hopefully go the way of all dictatorships. However it will take at least a generation or more to cleanse the culture of it's pernicious influence. The question remains if the glories of Persian culture and sophistication can re-emerge after so many years of suppression and religious zealotry. And can the average Persian regain his/her international cosmopolitanism. It remains to be seen and will not be easy under any circumstances.

    The situation with Turkey is similar – again, a sophisticated political history combined with a rich cultural heritage, and again, a tradition of reasonable tolerance for non-muslims across their Empire. We've discussed Turkey but the one point I need to highlight is that the journalists that are being jailed are being jailed not for criticizing the government or its polices but for violating policies initiated by the Military – that is for defaming Turkey – usually by writing about the Armenian Genocide. I don't believe it is a co-incidence that with a better economy, the enhanced education system, the relative openness of political discourse, and a willingness to re-evaluate their history that have happened coincidently with the rise of Erdogan's Party (based on a strong anti-corruption platform) that has resulted in the incarcerations. That is not defend this policy – only to highlight it is based more on historical intransigence and not political intolerance.

  • bataween
    "Interesting that Jews have to have Muslim business partners – just as they did in Arab countries."
    Did? It is still the case wherever there are Jews left. Where there is a Kasher butcher shop, the Jew must have a business partner as well.
    I don't know if it is the case in Turkey as well.

  • To Anonymous, as a Jew of Babylonian (Iraqi) descent, whose community had lived uninterrupted for over 2,000 years in Beth Nahrain, we learned our lesson the hard way. Many of us used to believe that if we just kept a low profile like good dhimmis, went about our business smartly, then everything would be ok. Even when our people were being massacred in the streets of Baghdad, our women raped, our children burned, our synagogues bombed and our lives strangled, many of us clung to the hope that it would all pass. The hard lesson that we learned, was similar to the hard lessons our brethren in Europe learned. As a minority we cannot afford to rely on the goodwill of anyone anymore. While you say the condition of Jews in Turkey were "far far better than Europe proper" there might be some truth to that. But I bet you that the Assyrians of Hakkari and the Armenians might not be so quick to praise the Ottomans, for reasons I'm sure you know. Our people in the Arab or Muslim countries never experienced something of the scale of the Holocaust, but we experienced periodic persecution, massacres, forced conversions, humiliation, expulsions even as we had periods were we prospered and made countless contributions to the economy, to music, to literature to name a few. But at the end of the day, Arab and Muslim countries have done such a very thorough job of emptying their lands of Jews as to rival the Nazis. Which is why I tend to be very wary of such public overtures of reconciliation that all too often walk hand in hand with vilification of Israel. I wish you, your family and community all the best. Have a safe and joyous Rosh Hashanah. Hag sameah l'koulam


  • What you write is very interesting. I agree with you that Erdogan wants to create a new Ottoman empire. I disagree with you that he will need to re-establish a relationship with Israel. Iran once had military collaboration with Israel – no longer.
    Erdogan is willing to sacrifice Israel to gain brownie points with the Arabs.
    I disagree with you that this particular Israeli government is insane. Don't forget that the Lebanon war and the Gaza war happened on Olmert's watch.
    Interesting that Jews have to have Muslim business partners – just as they did in Arab countries. It is true that Turkey was never a perfect democracy when the military had more power, but with dozens of journalists jailed by the current government, it is even less so.

    The trouble is that business is booming for Jews – a Greek banker I met the other day told me almost all his dealings with Turkey were with Jews. This makes it very difficult for Jews to see the writing on the wall.

  • Dear Bataween –

    Thank you for your response. Erdogan is first and foremost a politician – we can all never forget that. He is subject to the same political winds and forces that make all men of power seize their moment when that moment arises. Due to Bush's folly in Iraq, this is Turkey's moment to regain it's Empire. Don't think for minute that they would not want to reclaim the old Ottoman influence over the middle-east – albeit in a recast form. An economic and military alliance across the middle East to counter balance Iran and to bring unity to the Sunni. I believe this is Erdogan's guiding motivation at the moment. The fastest way to bring consensus is to castigate Israel while reaching out to the new governments of the Arab spring. Leaving Israel aside for a moment, a pluralistic and democratic force bringing order to the chaos of the Arabs is not a bad thing at all and more importantly leaves the door open to regain ties with Israel when a more sane Israeli government comes to power. Turkey is still a NATO member and as such still seeks recognition in the West. That is still critically important even as they create their neo-Ottoman empire. A relationship with Israel is a requirement for that engagement. Again, when a sane Israeli government comes into power.
    The Turkish military while being a force for secularism also did not prevent my cousins from being forced to have silent Muslim partners in their businesses they had to pay so as to be able to run them. The Turkish military also kept a stranglehold on the exercise of free speech – very much enjoyed by Turkish citizens today – despite what you imply about the Turkish press.
    The worst thing to happen to the middle East was the demise of the Ottomans and the rise of the British Mandate. Perhaps Turkey taking back it's legacy can bring some order to the chaos and keep the Arab Spring from turning to an Islamist winter.
    All I can say in closing is that my family while not happy with the heat of the anti_israel rhetoric does not feel threatened or in any way unsafe. Their businesses thrive and they are active participants in the Turkish political scene – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Is it America? No. But it's better than France for them in their opinion.

  • Dear Anonymous
    I quite understand that you wish to protect the position of Jews still living in Turkey, but many Turkish Muslims are unhappy with the way Erdogan has increased his stranglehold on the army and the press and in the last elections he did not get the decisive victory he had hoped for.
    In my view you cannot blame Erdogan's recent hysterical lurch away from Israel on Netanyahu's government, for any pretext will do: Erdogan is making a bid for leadership for the Arab world, as evidenced by his recent visit to Egypt, and unfortunatley the best way to do this is to play the bash-Israel card.

  • As a Jew of Turkish descent with many family members still living in Istanbul for over 600 years, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that the Prime Minister was sincere in his wishes and is a true friend to Turkish Jews. When the Synagogue was bombed on the sabbath the Prime Minister was first on the scene and was adamant in his denunciation of the perpetrators. Do not confuse misguided, dangerous, and counterproductive Netanyahu policies and their fall out with Erdogan with a climate of intolerance or hypocrisy in Turkey. Were there tough times through history? Certainly – but conditions for Jews in Turkey were far far far better than Europe proper. In the 20th Century even better. Israel needs a new government and get it's house in order NOW while there's still time to resume it's rightful place as Turkey's ally – not enemy.


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