Two recent comments by Turks encapsulate everything that’s wrong with Washington’s Turkey policy. One is Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay’s astounding accusation yesterday that the “Jewish diaspora” is behind last month’s massive anti-government protests. The other is a protester’s tweet quoted by Istanbul-based journalist Claire Berlinski: “Let me take this opportunity to thank Erdoğan’s international cheerleaders for the monster they’ve co-created.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has many international cheerleaders, but the biggest has long been President Barack Obama, who famously declared him one of the five world leaders he trusted most. Obama repeatedly touted Erdogan as a positive force in the Middle East and an exemplar of how to combine Islam and democracy.
This was always fatuous: Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists are neither a positive force in the Middle East nor an exemplar of democracy, and Erdogan’s government routinely spouts anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bile. But as Atalay’s comment shows, the chickens are now coming home to roost: Lest anyone has forgotten, the largest Jewish Diaspora by far is in America. In other words, Ankara’s newest conspiracy theory is primarily aimed at U.S. citizens.
This is a well-known historical pattern: Anti-Jewish animus always expands to new targets if left unchecked. Thus by giving the Erdogan government’s venom a pass and praising the premier lavishly, U.S. policymakers simply encouraged the poison to spread. Now, Erdogan is biting the very hands that fed him, turning not just on U.S. citizens–and specifically some of Obama’s strongest supporters–but on the international media (which also numbered among his cheerleaders until recently) and various unspecified foreign governments that Ankara sees as part of the conspiracy.
Moreover, by encouraging these excesses, Washington alienated the many ordinary Turks who oppose their premier’s less lovable traits, and especially his growing authoritarianism: Not only does Erdogan’s government lead the world in jailing journalists; it just suppressed peaceful protests so brutally that more than 7,000 people were wounded, many seriously, along with four killed.
As the abovementioned tweet shows, most Turks believe this violence was enabled by Erdogan’s “international cheerleaders,” who led him to believe that anything he did would get a free pass. And as Berlinski noted, his Turkish victims won’t soon forgive America for this–meaning this policy has done incalculable damage to America’s long-term interests.
But while the protests forced many journalists and governments to finally recognize the truth about Erdogan, there’s been one glaring exception: America. As Berlinski noted elsewhere, other embassies in Turkey tweeted regularly about the protests, but the U.S. mission stuck to fatuous irrelevancies like “#SecKerry on #LGBT Pride Month: No matter where you are, and no matter who you love, we stand with you.” Worse, at the height of the crackdown, U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone even lavished praise on Erdogan’s government, declaring, “There is no difference between us and the government of Turkey” regarding “the principles that we share of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly” (if that were true, American citizens should worry).
The message was clear: As far as the leader of the free world is concerned, Erdogan still has a free pass: His government is free to continue using massive violence against his own citizens, and free to spout anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against American citizens.
This should be a wake-up call for American Jews: They haven’t been trying to foment protests in Turkey, but it’s high time for them to start doing so in America. By pressuring the president they helped elect to finally stop encouraging Erdogan’s excesses, they would serve the long-term interests of America, Turkey and Jews everywhere. It’s hard to think of a bigger win-win than that.