The role of Trump and Erdogan in rising anti-Semitism

Ancient theories of Jewish responsibility for problems and plagues are re-emerging and gaining wider exposure nowadays. A glance at the history of Jews promptly reveals that Jews have often been maltreated as scapegoats, blamed for being the cause of society’s problems, deemed as being diseased or as a group intentionally spreading disease among non-Jews.

Many negative adjectives were utilized by Greek leaders to describe Jews in the 4th and 5th centuries. The eastern Roman Emperors Theodosius II and Justinian described Jews with words such as ‘perversity,’ ‘contagion,’ ‘pollution,’ ‘a plague’, and ‘contamination’. During the Black Death pandemic of the Middle Ages (1347-61) Jews were accused of ‘poisoning the wells’. The Nazi ideology framed all Jews as a bio-threat. After the establishment of Israel, some hostile. Today, it is the Islamists and white supremacists that outperform everyone else as ardent discipline of anti-Semitism.

Do Trump and Erdogan have any role in rising anti-Semitism recently? Let’s have a look!

Overt anti-Semitism crops up in many varieties. Most prevalent in the United States during the twentieth century was the “polite” anti-Semitism of the Protestant upper class. They discriminated against employing Jews in certain industries and banished them from certain country clubs, hotels, and private schools, as depicted in the 1947 Oscar-winning film Gentlemen’s Agreement. These forms of anti-Semitism commenced to dwindle after the Second World War, however they didn’t vanish. The “No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews” sign at the Baltimore Country Club in Maryland didn’t come down until 1970.

Another variant was the anti-Semitism rooted in Catholic theology, which viewed Jews as “Christ killers. The fundamental threat to Jews today are not working-class Catholics, or Protestan upper class , but white supremacist groups—whose members have increased in number and audacity in the last few years.

It is no accident that anti-Semitic incidents have mushroomed since Donald Trump started campaigning for president in 2015. Anti-Semitic comments on social media skyrocketed after Trump announced his campaign. His use of anti-Semitic stereotypes has encouraged Jew-haters. He enables, tolerates, winks at, and makes excuses for anti-Semitism, most notably when he said that some of the Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017 were “good people. Nearly 60% think Trump bears ‘some responsibility’ for the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings, according to findings from the Jewish Electorate Institute. Also, seventy-one percent said they disapprove of the way Trump has more broadly handled anti-Semitism.

In 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents reached an all-time high, eclipsing every previous year on record in US. According to the New York City Police Department, more than half of the 423 reported hate crimes in the city last year were directed at Jews.

Jews constitute only 2 percent of the U.S. population, but they are a convenient scapegoat for different kinds of haters, especially during hard times and periods of rapid change and social upheaval. But why?

Throughout history, across great spans of time and space, anti-semites have accomplished to accuse Jews of their social and political problems, associating Jews with wars, financial crises, crime and plagues, and using radically different discourses to do so, religious and secular, left and right. Today, traditional antisemitic stereotypes are being updated by Islamists and white supremacists who serve for political benefits of both Trump and Erdogan.

We have seen anti-semitic conspiracy theories thrive and run wild even during Covid-19. Pro-Erdogan politicians and journalists blamed Israel for spreading the virus for strategic reasons, population dilution whilst white supremacists blamed the American Jews for spreading the virus to further their global dominance and financial gains according to a report released by the American Jewish Congress. This matters, of course, because anti-Semitic conspiracies can in time result in a rise in violence against Jews. Anti-Semitism has surged from the internet into the streets both in US and Islamic countries.

Just like Trump, Erdogan also have inspired and emboldened an alt-right racist and anti-Semitic infrastructure in his own community. Erdogan doesn’t hesitate to exploit public sentiments to position himself as an anti-imperialist warrior and the hero of the Arab Street. Anti-Semitic sentiment carry on prevailing in Turkey. Islamists keep Israel accountable at every opportunity for internal woes to diminish domestic pressure and inflame the concept of an external enemy in order to cultivate regime legitimacy.

Turkey plunged into economic turmoil in mid-2018 shortly after Erdogan was reelected under a new governance system that rendered power in the president’s hands. Turkey’s staggering unemployment numbers demonstrate how tough it is now for the government to tackle the pandemic-hit, shrinking economy. Nepotism, de-secularization and fading freedom of speech also haunt the Kemalist, liberal segment of the society.

As popular discontent has grown and grievances have become louder, Turkish government is busy with  bullying, intimidating and disabling opposition as well as abusing the  fertile environment for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Turkey and blaming the global Jewish financiers for its failures and corruption. The magical phrases In Turkish politics are: ‘it is a game of Jewish lobby’, ‘Jewish diaspora is behind it’ and ‘We will beat the demonic destabilizing force’   Every Islamist politician tends to use this opportunity to attract some extra votes, consolidate his constituency or deflect attention in Turkey. The anti-Jewish attitudes dominating senior officials might be a major factor behind Turkey’s unwillingness to embrace full normalization with Israel.

Hatred receives legitimacy both in US and Turkey. Anti-semitism is only one color in a rainbow of racism in US. Islamophobia, Sinophobia, subjugation of Afro-Americans and Hispanics, Native Americans… Trump might be benefiting from various forms of racism, hatred, and alienation, nevertheless, the imagery of George Floyd’s humiliation and inhumane subjugation at the hands of the unrelenting Derek Chauvin in his final moments has shaken the social and moral consciousness of the individuals all over the world. Trumps’s xenophobia has obviously deepened the crises of race and religion in the US.

The Polish psychologist Andrew Lobaczewski dedicated his life to examining the relationship between psychological disorders and politics. He aspired to understand why psychopaths and narcissists are so vehemently attracted to power as well as the processes by which they take over governments and countries. He ultimately coined up the term “pathocracy” to describe governments made up of people with these disorders. Many have plainly stated that Donald Trump displays all the signs of narcissistic personality disorder. Similar cases have been made by psychologists for other “strongman” politicians around the world, such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Well, this is just a very interesting point to bear in mind. A hypo-thesis..  Maybe a fact… We don’t know exactly. However, we are all pretty sure that both US and Turkey have enormous challenges ahead. Once a stable and secure nation, Turkey has been at the epicenter of a chaos, deeply drawn into a vortex of despair on account of financial meltdown, crisis of democracy and human rights, unemployment, security issues, political mobilization of Islam, Syria, Libya…The list goes on… Turkey remains 110th in the Economist’s latest global democracy index and it is the world’s largest prison for journalists. Life, for many Turks, therefore seems to have descended into a turmoil   amid pandemic, polarization and obscurity.  US is also ravaged by myriads of issues.. Racism, environmental challenges, climate change, obesity and food system, violence and gun control, poverty and unemployment, endless wars, healthy system, addiction and overdose.

Erdogan and Trump should therefore elaborate on solving these formidable problems other than blaming the Jews for their own incompetence and mismanagement. Exploiting anti-semitism might be useful in the short term yet concealing the real cause of the crises they generated might undermine their kingdom in the long term. Nearing elections will be a tough challenge for the both.

About the Author
Serkan is lecturer and an independent journalist. He has a masters and Phd from Leeds University and publishes articles regularly in numerous media outlets.
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