The View from Istanbul: What The Turkish Prime Minister Really Meant

By | Mar 08, 2013


By Aylin Kocaman


“It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism, or anti-Semitism, or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

— Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan


Following Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement about Zionism, I have received a great many messages from my Israeli and Jewish friends. “What will happen now?” they said.   To be honest, I was amazed. I knew that there had been a love and closeness between the two peoples in the past, but the alarm I saw only confirmed it. The Israeli public was genuinely  alarmed. They did not want their old friends to turn their backs on them. I was greatly surprised, and also rejoiced because of this love.

I told them the following reality in my Jerusalem Post piece: The term Zionism means something different in Turkey. It is regarded as an aggressive  and dangerous ideology that regards violence in order to dominate the whole of the Middle East and even half of Turkey as legitimate. People also think the term means that Zionists considers other races and faiths as inferior. True Zionism, which expresses the right of the Jewish people to live in the Holy Land, has never been known in that sense. The Turkish people have always embraced idea of Jews living in the Holy Land, but the word ‘Zionism’ has always sent them running.

I encountered a huge sigh of relief when I explained this.  The Jews I knew really wanted to hear this. And from what it seems, so did Jews I did not know! I received about a hundred messages in one day saying how delighted people were by my clarification.

Some were unsure. Some were not sure that this was really what Erdogan meant. Others regarded it as unacceptable for the people of a country to have such a misunderstanding.

Of course I cannot speak for the prime minister. But the Zionism to which the prime minister referred is, I am certain, the wrong Zionism with that terrible meaning employed by the Turks for many years. Otherwise, the prime minister would never have allowed the word anti-Semitism to appear in the same sentence. He protects Jews and would have done nothing against their sacred values.

Erdogan may have said some harsh things about the Israeli government in the past but that criticism has never targeted the state of Israel or the Israeli people. He has never neglected  to add the provision “My words are not directed toward the Israeli people.” Indeed, the day after we requested, in our studio, that the prime minister issue a clarification to put this misconception over his words regarding Zionism right, a statement was issued by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç rejecting that misconception. Speaking at a conference on ‘Muslims, Jews and Christians: Peace Is Possible,’ held in the Foreign Affairs Conference halls of the German Parliament, Arınç said:

“I am addressing my Jewish friends; we cannot harbor any thoughts that would go against your beliefs. We would not say anything to offend you. That is to say, we would definitely not oppose your beliefs or essential ideas.“Be assured that neither our prime minister nor other ministers have uttered any words that would go against your holy values. I personally guarantee this to you; we can never question the grounds on which Israel exists. We will definitely never defame the holy values of Israel, of the Jewish people. From now on there will be no words, no acts that will sadden you.”

These words should eliminate the Israeli people’s concerns on the subject. The words “We will never say anything against your beliefs or the grounds on which you exist would definitely not oppose your beliefs or essential ideas” make it clear there is a misconception regarding Zionism. In addition, the presence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land is a holy belief held by Muslims as well as Jews because this is what the Koran commands. The Koran contains the verses, “We said to the tribe of Israel after that, ‘Inhabit the land…’  (17/104) and “Remember when Moses said to his people, ‘My people! remember Allah’s blessing to you when He appointed Prophets among you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given to anyone else in all the worlds!(5/21)      ‘

My people! enter the Holy Land which God has ordained for you Do not turn back in your tracks’…” (5/20-21) According to these stipulations, Muslims should be happy at seeing Jews in the Holy Land. Therefore, there can be no question of the Turkish government objecting to the presence of the state of Israel in the Holy Land.

But can the people of a country have  misconceptions? Of course. We grow up with the values, teachings and knowledge taught to us by society. Sometimes only part of these are right. Fears, worries and truths are all things taught to us. A great part of these are meaningless fears and illogical truths. Someone who grows up in China may think that communism means salvation for communities because that is the only system he has known all his life.  A fundamentalist who thinks of jihad as killing has also been falsely educated, as has the person who places food in front of an idol.

It is therefore degrading and weak to make misinformation a reason for conflict and rage. Knowing the truth also imposes a responsibility to educate those who are misinformed. People may not be able to overcome the fears of decades in a single moment but nobody can withstand the truth. Such times, when misunderstandings arise, are  special ones when proper education needs to be given. This crisis now is changing the Turkish people’s conception of Zionism. We have had a chance to tell them what many Muslims in the world do not know, the fact that the Jews have a right to live in the Holy Land. This is a good thing for the Jews. Our Jewish brothers need not be alarmed. The Turkish people have always loved and will always love them. Now, when they learn that Zionism is commanded by the Koran, they will also be the protectors of this holy value of the Jews. All things are inevitably created for the best.


The writer is a commentator and religious and political analyst on Turkish TV and also a peace activist. She is a host and Executive Producer on the Building Bridges Show ( and writes as an op-ed columnist for the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Post, Moment Magazine, Gulf Daily News and Haber Hilal in Turkey. Her webpage is:




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