Turkey's far-right Good Party (İP) faced a major backlash on social media yesterday after one of its most prominent members made anti-Semitic comments, identifying Judaism with corruption.
Good Party representative for Kocaeli and head of the party’s parliamentary group Lütfü Türkkan on Sunday shared a video on his official Twitter account showing the celebration for a newborn baby.
The clip showed scenes of a rather lavish, female-only event, the attendees of which were notably headscarved. Türkkan held this as an example of the corrupt extravagance he believes typical of conservative circles within the country.
However, what caused the backlash was not his judgmental attitude on this point, but rather, his identification of all this apparently sinful overindulgence with the qualities of the Jewish people.
“There is a segment of society we refer to as Protestant Muslims who are gaining wealth unfairly and living a life of luxury. These people have gone Jewish in terms of their thoughts,” Türkkan said in his tweet, apparently referring to Max Weber’s "Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, when making a “sociological observation." Yet his comment has led him to be condemned by many for anti-Semitism.
One of the most prominent reactions came from İvo Molinas, editor-in-chief of ŞALOM daily, a Turkish Jewish newspaper.
“If one official in the Good Party makes anti-Semitic an statement, then we better close the shop already! ... What a shame,” he shared on Twitter, attaching Türkkan’s tweets.
The İP was founded back in 2017 by dissidents from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It quickly gained a reputation for fitting into the far-right end of the political spectrum. However, since its foundation, the party has claimed that it would fill the void of centrist politics in Turkey, despite many right-leaning figures joining the establishment of the party. Party leader Meral Akşener's term as interior minister while serving in government between 1996 and 1997 led her to facing criticism for a spate of unsolved murders, especially in southeastern Turkey.
In the June 2018, during the runup to parliamentary and presidential elections, Nation Alliance partners, the Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İP Chairwoman Meral Akşener, adopted a populist and exclusionary interpretation of nationalism in a bid to garner votes. This showed itself most clearly when it came to refugees, similar to most other cases of far-right movements all around the world.
Meanwhile, Türkkan barely acknowledged the anti-Semitic nature of the comment or their potential to offend segments of society. In his response to Molinas, Türkkan said “not every sentence that includes the word Jew is anti-Semitic. Is it forbidden to use this word or what...!”
Molinas’ response, meanwhile, did its best to make clear Türkkan's error:
“Mr. Türkkan, you have defined an event that you’ve found 'bad' as 'gone Jewish.' In any sense, when there is no such term as 'going Jewish,' by using such a term that implies all Jews, you’ve even crossed the border of racism. You have caused deep disappointment...” he said.
Molinas was not the only one who felt to need to warn Türkkan regarding his offensive rhetoric. Many Twitter users urged the İP deputy to apologize while questioning his aim in making such a comparison.
“1. I have never seen such Jews in my life, 2. I have never understood what people want from Jews,” said a user, pointing at the absurdity of the comparison.
Another user asked, “What is your problem with the Jews, my dear Pasha?”
The supporters of the party accused the Jewish writer of twisting the İP’s founding principles to position itself as a mainstream party.
“If we will throw our foundational principles away to become mainstream, then let’s not be,” one of them said, in a reminder that the party’s principles were based on the glorification of Turkish identity at the expense of other religions.
However, those most offended were, not surprisingly, the members of the Jewish community in Turkey.
“As a Turk who voted for the İP in the latest elections, I am really regretful,” one of them said, adding that it’s a shame to see that İP does not offer a light of hope for Jews.
“I am demanding an apology for this hurtful message of yours. The unawareness you show is worse than however bizarre the scenes on the video look. When there is lack of manners in the video, with you, there is discrimination and hatred,” another one said.
The Jewish community in Turkey is mostly descendants of the Sephardic Jews who took shelter in the Ottoman Empire after fleeing Spain many centuries ago. Their numbers are mainly concentrated in Istanbul nowadays, having dwindled since a pogrom which took place half a century ago and in light of increased migration to Israel.