Pro-Erdogan Media in Turkey Inciting Antisemitism Over Kurdish Independence Referendum
As the impending referendum on independence for the Kurdish region of Iraq draws closer, pro-government media outlets in Turkey – which remains bitterly opposed to Kurdish self-determination – are energetically promoting conspiracy theories centered on the alleged relations between Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and the Israeli authorities.
The latest antisemitic salvo in the Turkish press claims that Barzani and the Israelis have agreed on the resettlement of 200,000 Jews in territory controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq following the referendum – currently scheduled for September 25. While Kurdish leaders are reported to be considering “alternatives” to the referendum given the international unease with the prospect of Kurdish independence, Barzani told a pro-independence rally on Saturday, “To this date, we still have not received the alternative that could take the place of the referendum, and therefore cast your votes on September 25, and take your decision.”
The Israel-related conspiracy theory appeared in a number of pro-government titles over the last week, including the magazine Yeni Safak – renowned for its fierce, unconditional support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All the articles cited the magazine Israel-Kurd, a journal published in the Kurdish city of Erbil that highlights the historically good relationship between the Kurdish and Jewish minorities in the Middle East. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of Iraqi Jews escaped persecution in Iraq by traveling through the mountainous Kurdish region accompanied by local guides affiliated with the Kurdish resistance in the country.
“It is said that Massoud Barzani, who received support only from Israel during the referendum process, plans to strengthen his hand with help from Kurds of Jewish origin who have prominent positions in Israel,” Yeni Safak claimed. About 200,000 Jews of Kurdish origin live in Israel – the same number the pro-Erdogan media claims will descend on Kurdistan should the region declare independence.
The latest claim comes amid Turkish outrage following the comments of IDF Gen. Yair Golan, who said on a visit to Washington, DC last week that he does not regard the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – based in the Turkish region of Kurdistan – as a terrorist organization. Subsequently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly disagreed with Golan’s assessment of the PKK, even as he expressed support for Kurdish independence.
Since 1984, when the PKK launched an insurgency in the Kurdish east of Turkey against Ankara’s increasingly violent rule, around 40,000 people – five times more than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the same period – have been killed, the majority of them Kurdish civilians.
As Prime Minister and – since 2014 – as President, Erdogan himself is no stranger to antisemitic outbursts, and much of Turkey’s media has followed him faithfully on this path. In May this year, Erdogan returned to one of his favorite themes – that global Jewish influence prevents Israeli leaders from standing trial for their crimes – in a newspaper interview, saying, “They feel they are immune to any punishment for their crimes, but the international community needs to stand up against them. It is impossible to establish peace in the region if the international law remains indifferent to massacres and cruelty.”
As well as the Islamists gathered around Erdogan, the antisemitic campaign around the Kurdish referendum has also won the support of Turkish ultranationalist parties. On Friday, Israel’s embassy in Ankara was evacuated during a far-right demonstration protesting the creation of a “second Israel” in Kurdistan. Turkish nationalist and fascist groups have also begun harassing the Jewish community, forcing the temporary closure of Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue last July.