Presidents and diplomats have for decades described Turkey as a model. In 2004, for example, President George W. Bush stood before a crowd of journalists in Ankara and praised Turkey. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.” After the Arab Spring, politicians began to suggest that Turkey—with its supposed combination of Islam and democracy—might be a model for the Arab states in which Islamist parties sought for the first time to compete freely in elections.
Last week at the Chautauqua Institution, I gave a lengthy address suggesting that the notion of Turkey as a model for the Middle East was both wrong and dangerous, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a model in other ways: He has single-handedly shown how even Islamist leaders embraced in the West as the most moderate harbor noxious anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Almost two years ago, I wrote here about how Turkey was embracing the crudest anti-Semitism. Then, earlier this summer as Turks across the political spectrum rose up against Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, he lashed out at some mysterious “Interest Rate Lobby,” a not-too-subtle reference to international Jewry which Erdoğan believes controls the markets. Not to be outdone, he has now accused Jews of masterminding the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. That’s right: Those Jews control the Egyptian military.
Let’s be blunt: If Erdoğan is a model, then he is a model for bigotry. Turkey has an anti-Semitism problem, and it is personified by its leader. Any of those who still seek to embrace Erdoğan or see him as a friend through whom the United States can work are effectively endorsing a worldview that is little different from Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi.