While we were out celebrating Purim, a different kind of “nahafoch hu” – a topsy turvy event – was occurring in Holland. It all started when Turkish President, in his bid to turn himself into a modern-day Sultan, has been organizing election rallies in other European countries with sizable Turkish populations, particularly Holland and Germany. The Dutch did not take kindly to this foreign activity in their country, especially as they themselves head to elections today, and refused entry to Turkey’s Rotterdam consulate to a Turkish minister who wished to take part in one of these rallies:
Dutch police on Saturday stopped Turkish Family and Social Policies Minister Betul Sayan Kaya’s vehicle from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, reported local broadcaster A-HBR.
The Turkish Consul General’s Rotterdam residence was blocked after 600 Dutch residents demonstrated peacefully on the streets outside the consulate.
Kaya has announced she will meet Turkish citizens at her office instead of at the consulate.
In a richly hypocritical remark she said:
“Netherlands is violating all international laws, conventions and human rights by not letting me enter Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam,” she tweeted.
The Washington Post describes Erdogan’s aims in Turkey:
ISTANBUL — So far in a rancorous campaign season, the Turkish government or its opponents have invoked Nazi Germany, terrorist groups, fifth columnists and a Latin American dictator.
And that was in the campaign’s first two weeks.
There is more than a month to go before a referendum in April that will allow Turks to vote on constitutional amendments that could give Turkey’s dominating leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vast new powers and allow him to remain in office for more than a decade.
The amendments would transform Turkey’s government, by abolishing the post of prime minister in favor of what has been called the “executive presidency,” while enlarging the parliament and empowering the president to unilaterally issue decrees. Erdogan’s supporters argue that the changes would leave the president free to govern what has become an unruly state, hobbled by political instability and coalition governments, and as the country faces threats to its stability from foreign and domestic militant groups.
Erdogan’s opponents have accused the government of playing on the public’s fears after a string of deadly militant attacks over the past few months. The more worrying backdrop to the referendum, they say, is the authorities’ crackdown on enemies and opponents after a failed coup attempt in July, resulting in the dismissals or arrests of tens of thousands of people.
Turkey has also enraged Germany with the arrest of a German Turkish reporter:
The recent detention in Turkey of the German Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent of the daily Die Welt, has added to the outrage.
In the aftermath of the arrest, venues in at least five German towns canceled appearances by Erdogan surrogates, mostly because of what officials have called security concerns. Then came Erdogan’s reference to the Nazis — a burst of anger that many in Turkey, including some of the government’s opponents, considered justified and that may serve to bolster Erdogan’s support at home.
In a series of increasingly stinging rebukes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accused Erdogan of trivializing the victims of the Nazis and demanded that he stop making the comparison.
Yet, at the same time, Merkel has stressed that Turkey and Germany were bound together in many ways, highlighting her delicate position as she navigates her relationship with the Turkish leader.
The question for us, of course, is whether this is all good or bad for the Jews – and for Israel. On the one hand, as the JPost notes, Israel is now not the enemy-du-jour of Turkey:
Something odd is happening as Turkey marches toward a referendum next month on whether to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Israel is not serving as Erdogan’s whipping boy in the campaign to fire up the masses.
Instead, the Netherlands now stars in that role, and that, from Jerusalem’s perspective, is not an insignificant change.
Or, as another observer of Turkey put it, “You knew when elections were getting closer in Turkey over the last eight years by the fierceness of the attacks on Israel.”
Erdogan, looking to improve relations with Washington following a fraught relationship with former president Barack Obama, saw the closeness of the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump last month, and – according to Turkey watchers in Jerusalem – concluded that this was another reason it was not worth picking a fight with Israel.
Erdogan has shown himself generally careful not to go after those he thinks can cause Turkey harm. For instance, following the attempted coup against him last summer he demanded that the US extradite US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen who he charged was behind it. Even though Washington has not extradited Gulen, Erdogan has kept quiet.
Likewise, his strategic interests at this time are served by a smooth relationship with Israel – which has taken the Jewish state out of his campaign talking points.
The Turkish president does not, however, have a whole lot to lose by lashing out at the Dutch in particular, and the Europeans in general. The idea of becoming part of the European Union is dead, and attacking the Europeans fires up his own nationalist constituency.
The diplomatic row with the Netherlands is expected to rally his constituents around him in what is shaping up to be a very close referendum.
Of course, the law of unintended consequences should never be ignored:
This row also serves the interests of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is facing a parliamentary election on Wednesday and a huge challenge from his right in the form of Geert Wilders and his anti-Islamic Party for Freedom. By standing up to Erdogan, not allowing the Turkish ministers to attend a rally in Rotterdam in favor of the referendum, Rutte comes across as looking tough on Muslims, a popular election card to play these days. But the incident also plays into Wilder’s hands as well.
Cnaan Lifschitz in the Times of Israel is concerned that these events are not a good sign for the Jews:
Erdogan is eyeing the 3 million Turkish nationals living in Europe who can cast their votes in Turkish embassies.
But the chummy atmosphere evaporated as word spread that Dutch police had arrested the minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya. In reality, she was escorted out of the country to Germany on orders of the Dutch government. Ahead of Wednesday’s general elections in the Netherlands — immigration and Islam have become major issues in the heated campaign — the government vocally objected to Turkey’s campaigning on its soil.
Hundreds of young men began confronting police, hurling stones at them while shouting “Allahu akbar” – Arabic for “Allah is the greatest.” Some in the crowd then shouted “cancer Jews” in Dutch at the riot police, who used water cannons to disperse the crowd, according to witnesses. It was one of several incidents recently in the Netherlands where anti-Semitic slogans were shouted at demonstrations that had nothing to do with Jews.
But for Dutch Jews, the affair also underlined a growing concern over the defiance of a minority among local Muslims, whose anti-Semitic attitudes and actions are generating an anti-Muslim backlash in a once-tolerant society.
“We saw again that the word ‘Jew’ and ‘homo’ are curse words in these groups,” Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, told JTA. “Those protesters have such hostility toward Jews that it just comes out.”
Voet also called the violent protesters in Rotterdam a “fifth column” in Dutch society, adding that she was “in some ways glad the riots exposed what many would rather deny.”
Across Western Europe, surveys consistently show a relatively high prevalence of anti-Semitic sentiment among Muslims, many of whom associate Jews with an establishment they feel is oppressive and hostile to their identity and faith.
But the use of slogans about Jews during violent confrontations that do not involve Jews is a recent development. And it is shocking to many European Jews because “it shows the centrality of anti-Semitism as a core identity value” among some Muslim immigrants and their descendants, according to Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar of anti-Semitism who has written extensively about the Netherlands.
In covering the Rotterdam rioting, the Dutch media largely ignored the anti-Semitic shouts, focusing instead on the far wider ramifications of what quickly evolved into a showdown featuring Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany.
And despite the right-wing backlash against the Turks, some Jews are getting nervous:
“All in all, a good show for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who wants to flex muscles ahead of the election to avoid hemorrhaging votes to the far right,” said Maurice Hayut, a Morocco-born Jewish-Israeli filmmaker who lives in Amsterdam.
“Also a great show for Erdogan, who is portraying himself at home as the champion of the Turkish and Muslim causes against the hostile West,” added Hayut, who has made two documentaries about anti-Semitism and Islam in Europe.
Nonetheless, for the Dutch chief rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, the anti-Semitism on display in Rotterdam raised the specter of violent attacks, like the recent attacks on synagogues in Paris.
“I hope I am wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens also here,” Jacobs said when asked whether he believed that following the riots, Muslim radicals may turn violent against Jews.
Jacobs’ home in Amersfoort has been vandalized several times in recent years, and he has said that he would leave the Netherlands if not for his communal duties.
Against this backdrop, many Dutch Jews are joining other countrymen in supporting the Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders, a stridently anti-Islam lawmaker who last year was convicted of inciting discrimination for promising during a 2014 speech to make sure the Netherlands has fewer Moroccans.
The latest Netherlands poll figures show the far right and Geert Wilders slipping – but of course with the dismal record of exit polls and public opinion polls before elections, this cannot be relied upon.
The main lessons to be taken from all this are the dictatorial aims of Erdogan, and the malign influence he wields upon his former subjects who on the one hand left Turkey and on the other hand want to recreate it in Europe and yet still want to participate in the politics of the country they left behind by stirring up trouble in their new host countries.
For Hebrew readers I would recommend (h/t Zvi) Middle East expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar’s column in NRG (Maariv) – “The battle over Europe” in which he describes Europe’s slow awakening to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aim of becoming “Sultan”, as not only the Netherlands, but also Germany, Switzerland and Austria take action to prevent Erdogan’s representatives from entering their countries.
Is this the beginning of a new dawn in Europe? Time will tell.