Tragic word out of Istanbul that the deputy mayor of Şişli, a district in central Istanbul home to many of the hotels favored by Western tourists, has been shot and killed in his office. Cemil Candas, was a member of the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and a member of Turkey’s increasingly beleaguered Jewish community.
Traditionally, Jews felt welcome in Turkey. The republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, sought to separate mosque and state. He banned parties from organizing around religion. In addition, Turks saw and in elementary school textbooks learned that their Jewish community was loyal. While any number of constituents—Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, Bulgarians, and more—rose up against the Ottoman Empire, the Jews never did.
Many Turks today cite this legacy to say their Jewish community is safe. The problem is that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the increasingly violent knife-wielding Brown Shirts whom he calls upon to back his rule prioritize religious over ethnic identity. (The prioritization of religion is one of the reasons why Erdoğan also backs Hamas over the Palestinian Authority). Virulent anti-Semitism is deep-rooted in Erdoğan’s ruling party. Turkish media broadcasts anti-Semitic tropes and incitement and a Turkish translation of Mein Kampf became a best-seller in the wake of Erdoğan’s victory. Newsstands outside government buildings sell pamphlets calling Atatürk a closet Jew.
Turkey is now over a precipice and in free fall. Erdoğan seeks to impose his religious ideology on the state and brokers no opposition. Part of that ideology is deeply anti-Semitic. Countries change. Turkey is no longer the tolerant, multi-religious republic it once was. For Turkey’s Jews, the situation is going to get much worse, and it may not get better.