The ostensible reason for the cozy gathering was to develop a Holocaust educational curriculum for Turkish schools. The two stars at the roundtable were Turkish Ambassador Ertan Tezgor and Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith. And what was said as Mr. Dimant regaled the ambassador? Let’s give the first word to the august Turkish ambassador—by definition a veteran denier of the Genocide of Armenians. “Turkey’s role in saving Jews during the Holocaust, plus its current fight against anti-Semitism and new Holocaust education curriculum, will be a model for other countries,” said he.
The ambassador also opined “Unlike other countries, Turkey was a place of refuge for Jews during the Holocaust…During the Nazi regime, we were the only country in which not even one Jew was taken or executed; on the contrary, Turkey was a safe haven…We have no guilt…We don’t need to confess; it [Turkey]is more pure [than Holland, Poland, Germany]…Turkey can be a model to the countries outside of the International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, mainly in the Middle East.”
Not to be outdone by the falsehood-peddling diplomat, Mr. Dimant countered that he appreciated Turkey’s actions and strong example, and added “The points you made are exceptionally earth shattering. Turkey is a country that comes to the table with clean hand and no guilt…”
There you have it: assertions which don’t even have a passing familiarity with the facts: words with a hideous secret agenda and symbols that would stump mythologist Joseph Campbell and semiotician Umberto Eco.
For far too long Turkey has congratulated itself for providing sanctuary to Jews. Let’s tell the Tezgor-Dimant vaudeville duo the truth about Turkey’s appalling treatment of Jews.
In the years leading to the WWII, 30,000 Jews, who were citizens of Turkey, left for Europe because of Turkish anti-Semitism. During the early months of the war Jews, who were living under the Nazi regime, including Jews who had Turkish citizenship, asked for refuge in Turkey. Ankara revoked the citizenship of some of these Jews and refused them entry. Others, also with Turkish citizenship, were allowed. Jews who were not citizens were refused entry. Turkey often repeats the lie that Turkish diplomats obtained the release of Jews living in Europe. Ankara doesn’t say that it wasn’t for humanitarian reasons but to line their pockets.
On Dec. 15, 1941 SS Struma (a Romanian vessel), packed with 769 Jewish refugees, dropped anchor in Istanbul. The passengers, fleeing the Nazis, were on their way to Palestine. After more than two months of unheeded pleas by the passengers to allow them to continue their journey, Turkish authorities dragged Struma—with its engines almost inoperable—into the open sea. Within hours the ‘Struma’ was torpedoed and sank. Everyone, except one person, perished.
While Winston Churchill was popularizing the “V for victory” sign (1942) Ankara unleashed the double “V”–a new tax called Varlik Vergisi (Wealth Tax). The rich were to pay astronomical taxes on their fixed assets. They had to scramble to assess the value of their properties and pay the tax within 30 days. Although the tax was to be paid by all wealthy citizens, the chief victims were the Jews, Greeks, and Armenians. The clandestine aim of the tax was to arbitrarily eliminate minority population’s presence in the Turkish economy. Around 2,000 non-Muslims who couldn’t pay the tax were sent to labor camps. As a result, another large group of Jews left Turkey, many heading to Palestine. The economic war against non-Muslim minorities was successful as it appropriated much of their wealth.
While the Nazis were killings Jews, Turkish newspapers such as ‘Milli Inkilap’ was publishing anti-Semitic caricatures pinched from the Nazi ‘Der Sturmer’ newspaper. The vilification of Jews became such a national pastime that Jewish community leaders had to plead Ankara to curb the hate campaign.
A decade earlier (1934) there were anti-Jewish pogroms and expulsions in Tekirdag, Edirne, Canakkale, and Kirklareli.
In 1930 Turkey banned the first talkie (“The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson) calling it “Jewish propaganda.” In the mid-‘30s when MGM announced that it would produce “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh”(see Keghart’s ‘Open Letter to Steven Spielberg’ in our previous issue), the Turkish media editorialized that since the book’s author (Franz Werfel) and the studio were Jewish, Turkey would boycott not only MGM films but also Jewish businesses around the world.
Soon after Israel was established, Jewish buildings in Turkey, including Neve Shalom and Israel synagogues were bombed. Twenty people were killed and over 300 injured. Meanwhile, the Turkish media continued its racist fulminations against Jews. Some 35,000 Jews, nearly half of the Jewish population in Turkey, left for Israel because of discrimination.
For decades “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s ‘Mein Kamph’ have preened on the Turkish bestseller list. These notorious books were translated as early as the 1930s. Turkey continues to produce highly-popular anti-Jewish feature movies and TV serials. They always get high ratings as they spew anti-Semitic toxins.
Two other Turkish bestsellers in 2004 and 2006 (“Effendi” and “Effendi II” by Soner Yalcin) claimed that all of the important parties in Turkey have been occupied by donmes (converted Jews).”
A few months ago Recep Erdogan, the Islamist PM of Turkey, called Israel a “genocidal state.”
A few weeks ago Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (Mr. Tezgor’s boss) vetoed Israel’s participation in the May 21 NATO summit in Chicago.
In his recent book (“Model Citizens of the State”) historian Rifat Bali, a Turkish Jew refutes Ambassador Tezgor’s whitewash and exposes Turkish anti-Semitism and the disappearance of the Turkey’s Jewish community. In “Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust,” German scholar Corry Guttstadt reveals how the pre-First World War 150,000-member Turkish-Jewish community dwindled to fewer than 20,000 in 2012. Bali says elsewhere “Today it is virtually impossible to find someone in Turkey who will give even a neutral view of either Israel or Zionism, much less a favorable one. For public figures in particular, such statement would be tantamount to political suicide… Israel and Zionism are perceived as the source of all evils.”
In Ottoman times, Jews had to pay an extra levy called poll tax. Jews also had to be submissive to Muslims. Many Jews, descendants of Sephardim who fled Spanish persecution and sought shelter in ‘tolerant’ Turkey, converted to Islam to escape discrimination.
In the ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’ Kemalist regime Jews were targets of rigid nationalism and multi-faceted Turkification program. Mr. Bali cites the Ataturk government’s 1928 ‘ten commandments of the Turkification of the Jewish Community.’ Among the commandments were the orders to Turkify Jewish names, speak Turkish, read portions of the Old Testament in Turkish, Turkify Jewish schools or send children to state schools, and rout ‘communal mentality.’
In the ‘30s the Turkish media was replete with anti-Semitic jokes and caricatures. Racist cartoons featured Solomon and Rebecca; the pair had large, bulbous noses and frizzy hair. They spoke Turkish with a “funny” Jewish accent.
Bali in ‘The Slow Disappearance of Turkey’s Jewish Community’ (Right Side News, Jan. 11, 2012) wrote “…in recent years the entire community [Jewish] has become target of much resentment and hostile rhetoric from the country’s [Turkey] Islamist and ultranationalist sectors…Jewish parents counsel their children not to display Star of David necklaces in public, and to remain silent and if possible completely ignore the constant, hateful, often slanderous criticism of Israel in the Turkish public sphere…Despite the demand that they thoroughly behave as Turks, they were never truly considered as such…In the public sphere non-Muslims were unable to obtain employment as public servants, police officers or non-commissioned officers…” and adds that Turkish persecution has “left indelible traumatic memory [on the Jewish community] who suffer it …”
Nobody would be surprised by Ambassador Tezgor’s mythinformation. His job is to polish Turkey’s image. What about Mr. Dimant, the CEO of one of the most respected Jewish organizations in Canada? Why did he abet the ambassador’s freewheeling ways with the truth? Doesn’t Mr. Dimant realize that the Holocaust educational curriculum is an Ankara smoke-and-mirror gimmick to mitigate Mr. Erdogan’s assaults on Israel? Does Mr. Dimant know he is being used by the voluble and ingratiating man from Ankara? Are members of B’nai Brith, who pay Mr. Dimant’s salary and for his recent petit dejeuner, aware of his dubious bedfellow?
There have been a number of genocides, including one by Turkey-supported Sudan. Why isn’t Turkey launching an educational program about those genocides? Why send representatives all the way to Canada to organize such a program? Why not to Holland, Poland, France, Germany… where Jews were killed.
We know why Canada. The man in the striped pants is beating the drum over here because Canada recognizes the Genocide of Armenians. He is looking for an ally in his anti-Armenian campaign.
Some roundtable (King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad and the other chivalrous knights of Camelot must be turning in their graves.)